PETALING JAYA: The new “Tour Buddy” programme which allows locals to hosts tourists has gotten mixed reviews from the travel industry.
The Malaysian Association of Tour and Travel Agents (MATTA) claimed the service was illegal but the group behind it said its role was to complement tour guides and not replace them.
MATTA, in a statement, said it had advised members – numbering over 3,200 tour and travel companies – not to engage the services of Tour Buddy.
The service was launched by the Malaysian Inbound Tourism Association (MITA), in collaboration with Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation (MDEC).
According to the Tour Buddy’s website, verified hosts create their own tourism products and offer services to individuals or groups of not more than six people.
MATTA said Tour Buddy would bring the local tourism industry into disrepute and expressed disappointment with both MITA and MDEC.
It said it welcomed mobile apps that provide accurate and comprehensive information to promote a destination, but not a platform that “facilitates individuals to work as freelancers without being regulated”.
MATTA president Datuk Tan Kok Liang said the Tourism Industry Act 1992 barred licensed tourism operators from employing unlicensed guides.
Tan said those found guilty of the offence faced fines not exceeding RM20,000, two years’ jail or both.
“It does not matter whether the person is called a friend or buddy. But as long as the service is no different from that of a tourist guide and provided for a fee, it would be against the law,” he said.
He added tour buddies who organised tour packages and offered them online would also be in clear violation of regulations under the Tour Operating Business and Travel Agency Business (TOBTAB).
However, MITA said Tour Buddy was a community-based tourism programme that encouraged locals, especially in rural areas, to support the industry.
MITA president Uzaidi Udanis said through this platform, locals can promote their fruit farms and reveal previously unknown venue in kampungs, so even the whole villages can benefit from the tourism industry.
Tour Buddies, he said, can show tourists local skills, food and art such as ketupat-making.
“MITA believes this will enhance tourists’ experience, giving them more reasons to stay longer in Malaysia,” he said,
He added MITA agreed that everyone should abide by the law.
“MITA will not allow any tour buddy to provide services that are against the law,” Uzaidi said.