Tourist guides are licensed by the Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture (Motac) Malaysia. Last month, Minister Datuk Seri Nancy Shukri disclosed that 8,325 tourist guides from 17,003 registered with Motac received Prihatin assistance from the Federal Government.
Tourist guides are licensed to conduct tours in cities, jungles or within a state. Those registered as “City Tourist Guides” may conduct tours in cities throughout Malaysia. Likewise, “Local Nature Tourist Guides” are permitted to operate only within a particular natural area.
Sabahans and Sarawakians may also choose to attend a Regional Specific Tourist Guide (RSTG) course. Although the guiding licence is restricted within the state, RSTG courses are more suitable for training participants to become local experts from engagement with communities.
RSTG courses are now on a roll in Sarawak, with 19 participants having completed a course on July 8, and a new course with 21 trainees having commenced on Oct 12, which was launched by State Tourism, Arts and Culture Minister Datuk Abdul Karim Rahman Hamzah on Oct 21.
Abdul Karim announced that more RSTG courses are in the pipeline with Miri scheduled for January 2021 and Sibu in June. He disclosed that Sarawak only has 169 tourist guides, whereas Sabah has 2,000 despite Sarawak being bigger than Sabah.
He said Sarawak needs more tourist guides to prepare for the tourism industry to return to its peak post Covid-19 pandemic, and the plan is to have 500 tourist guides for the first phase of RSTG courses. But such a high number can only be reached if new strategies are introduced.
At the 2018 Sarawak Tourism Workshop held in Kuching, I facilitated the group on “Training and Shortages of Tourist Guides in Sarawak” and heard opposing views. Those representing the tourist guides association was adamant there was no shortage of tourist guides in the state.
To the uninitiated, such arguments could be perplexing. One must take cognisance that not all tourist guides are freelancers. Some are employed full time and only work for their employers, while others are part time tourist guides with full time jobs or even bosses of tour companies.
Over the past decades, there had been endless quarrels between those helming tour operators and tourist guides associations, with opposing sides adopting a confrontational and combative approach by pointing out the worst as representative of all tour companies or tourist guides.
The matter was further complicated with the shortage of tourist guides in Sarawak, which was deadlocked in a catch 22 situation. By law, all tours require a guide, but strict enforcement would have stopped most tours from operating as tourist guides were often not available.
But not enforcing have allowed tour operators to engage the service of unlicensed individuals masquerading as tourist guides. Lack of enforcement have also spawned a host of illegal operators and unlicensed vehicles providing transfer and tour services at airports and hotels.
Elsewhere, the number of male and female tourist guides are about equal but there is a dearth of female tourist guides in Sarawak, because overwhelming number of tours are to the jungle and caves that require tourist guides to be emotionally mature and physically fit.
If city tours around Kuching, Miri, Bintulu and Sibu are not popular, then local tour operators should enlist outside help to rework the itinerary. Every city and major town in the country contains a treasure trove that even locals would join visitors on sightseeing and shopping tours.
Under the new normal, tours should not continue as before and tourist guide courses must also be overhauled, including RSTG. Little has changed since I attended one eons ago and became a full-time tourist guide from 1973 to 1975, and examiner for practical tests from 1990 to 2000.
Trainees should first remember facts and figures before practising their commentaries in the classroom and not waste time listening to lectures. Officials from airport, immigration, customs, police, tourism and Road Transport Department should be invited to give relevant talks.
Trainees should learn beyond tourism information that are easily available in the public domain as visitors could easily retrieve them using smartphones. Tourist guides must engage and connect with communities and be seen as a friend to both visitors and locals alike.
Having a meal or buying local produce is deeply meaningful and satisfying when visitors get to know how these businesses were started and the trials and tribulations the founders went through. Tourist guides should not remain bystanders but help develop the soul of the city.
They can turn every traditional trade operating in a shop, stall or cart into a tourist attraction as the families of such sustainable businesses have produced successful leaders, entrepreneurs and professionals. Tourism becomes meaningful for both visitors and locals through engagements.
Interestingly, I have asked thousands of tourism players, including hundreds of tourist guides, to define the basic job of a tourist guide but none could provide the correct answer. Usually, there were more than 10 different definitions. Although none were wrong, all were incomplete.
Apart from providing transfers and tours, usually with a tour bus, future tourist guides should also learn to become vloggers and drone pilots. A great video of tourists on sightseeing with interesting commentary forwarded onsite could excite and assure family members back home.
And breathtaking videos are taken using drones, which should be allowed in rural areas. Apart from providing surveillance of the area, drones can reach a mountain or cave safely and swiftly to provide a close view of the natural habitat that would otherwise remain a distant spectacle.
Finally, Sarawak will have 500 tourist guides if RSTG courses are made beneficial, with participants knowing that they can choose to work full-time as there are adequate assignments, or part-time during peak seasons, or a stepping stone to higher positions in the tourism industry.
Petaling Jaya, Selangor
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