WOMEN taxi drivers are becoming vital front-line tourism players in Langkawi.
Using their feminine or motherly grace to charm tourists, they make tourists feel at home while driving them to the manifold attractions on the island.
“We are proud to be taxi drivers in Langkawi. It’s a fun job with good income and we have the chance to make friends with people from all over the world,” said Laila Abdullah, 38, a taxi driver for eight years.
Maznah Mat Isa, 50, who has been driving her red-and-yellow cab for six years, said driving a taxi is such a suitable job for women in Langkawi.
“I have even asked my 22-year-old daughter to get a Public Service Vehicle licence,” she said.
Maznah is the winner of the Best Taxi Driver category of the Langkawi Tourism Awards (Lita) 2015 while Laila is a nominee.
The pair make up two out of the three drivers who were shortlisted for the award this year.
Both Laila and Maznah have an advantage as former international hotel employees. Laila went from being a waitress to a front office assistant after 10 years of working in two international hotels.
Maznah spent 13 years in the hotel line, working in the food and beverage and accounts departments.
“We fully understand tourists. Europeans want safety the most while Middle Eastern travellers are demanding and afraid of being tricked. Chinese tourists want us to be efficient. When we became taxi drivers, all our hospitality experience became so important,” Laila said with a laugh.
Maznah said “the patience of a woman” was a vital virtue for taxi drivers, who frequently dealt with tourists.
“They are strangers on our island and if we can make them feel safe and secure, they will be grateful and may enjoy their stay,” she added.
Laila is also a single-mother of two and feels that taxi driving is “the perfect livelihood” for her because she could juggle her double-duty as breadwinner and homemaker.
“I took up my PSV licence for the sake of my young son and daughter. After my divorce, it was impossible to work in a regular job and manage my children at the same time,” she said.
Langkawi Development Authority public relations officer Khairul Nizam Abdul Ghalim said the organising team was delighted and not surprised when both women were nominated by their taxi association.
“Women taxi drivers are well known for being cheerful and friendly here,” said Khairul Nizam.
Beyond keeping a well-maintained vehicle, he added that the award winner had to be knowledgeable about Langkawi’s attractions and display a customer service level that went beyond just driving.
The judging process was done anonymously.
“Our judges pretended to be tourists and rode their taxis to rate their quality. They played the role of fussy tourists and gave both women a hard time by suddenly changing the destinations they wanted and asking them to stop so they could buy something,” Khairul Nizam revealed.
Persatuan Tuan Empunya dan Kereta Sewa Langkawi secretary Swadi Said said out of about 1,000 drivers in Langkawi, about 20 were women, aged between mid-20s and 50s.
“Langkawi is a safe island with a low crime rate. So, although there may be risks for women taxi drivers elsewhere, there are almost no risks here.
“Tourists love being driven by them and the regular ones will sometimes request for a lady driver,” he said.
Besides taxi drivers, Lita 2015 recognised outstanding tourism players in 29 award categories, covering all the hotel star levels plus homestay and bed-and-breakfast setups, restaurants, tourist service providers such as boat operators and tourist guides, tourist products and also six awards for geopark players including Best NGO Partner and Best Community Leader.
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