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LETTER | Tour operators must be prepared for future shocks or perish

LETTER | Anyone unprepared for future shocks would struggle to cope with the rapidity of social and technological changes and may suffer physical and psychological distress and disorientation. 

Rude awakenings would overload an organisation’s capacity for adaptation or decision-making.

In the travel trade, this is more so for tour operators that create tour packages and deliver services to their customers compared to travel agents that do not provide service to their clients other than booking facilities offered by principals such as airlines, hotels and theme parks.

Tour operators could be for outbound travel, and tour groups to overseas are normally escorted by a tour leader, who could be a staff or freelancer to assist in check-ins at airports and hotels, and ensure that all prearranged services are provided on time and to acceptable standards.

Local inbound tour operators accept reservations from overseas outbound tour operators or directly from incoming tourists before their arrival to Malaysia. 

Customers for domestic tour operators could be any organisation or person in the country, including foreign tourists.

While the source of inbound and domestic tourists may be different, their tours are the same within the country. Many operate tour vehicles licensed under Bas Persiaran that are different from those driven by customers, as self-drive vehicles are licensed under Kereta Sewa Pandu.

Staff good in running tour bus, van and limousine services may not be able to manage rent-a-car service, as chauffeur-driven businesses are relatively straightforward if customers are willing to pay the fees for bus charter and tourist guide, which is often compulsory by law.

But renting out vehicles to be driven by customers come with many inherent risks. Apart from accidental damage and notifications of traffic offences that could be received months later, some customers may not bother to return the rented vehicle if they think they can get away.

Even if the missing vehicle is fully insured under comprehensive cover, the insurance company will not pay any compensation as the vehicle was not stolen but willingly handed over by the staff to the customer. This is a good analogy for tour operators unprepared for future shocks.

If not for the Covid-19 outbreak which turned into a global pandemic from 2020, the world would have chugged along nicely, much like in 2019. Any attempt to convince tour operators then to prepare for the worst possible scenarios that may occur in future would have fallen on deaf ears.

Contingency plan

Tragically, 2021 turned out to be even worse than 2020. It is certain that those who have not learnt any lesson and are still not preparing for future shocks would perish in a matter of time, more so for tour operators that face a multitude of challenges on many fronts.

If it is not within the full control of governments, how could they possibly ensure the health, safety and security of their customers and workers in the event of another pandemic, natural or manmade disasters such as mass rioting, terrorist attacks, armed conflicts or full-scale war?

Without a contingency plan, most would be stumbling and fumbling when handling emergencies, accidents, fires, robberies, thefts and incidents such as lost or missing documents or passports, power failure or system down, website hacked or data stolen, or even office lock tampered with.

And then there are technological advancements and adoption such as the fifth-generation technology standard for broadband cellular networks commonly known as 5G, which telcos have started to deploy in 2019 in some countries, and 6G to be launched commercially in 2030.

Hence, our National Tourism Policy for 2020–2030 that was launched on Dec 23 last year contains six-pronged transformation strategies to be achieved through approaches that include strengthening competitiveness, sustainable tourism development and disaster preparedness.

For inbound tour operators and tourist guides, embracing the latest technology could mean using drones to enhance the safety and security of tourists in remote areas or natural sites. Apart from own surveillance, the videos could also be transmitted live to the nearest police station.

For outbound tour operators and tour leaders, they are to ensure members of tour groups could shop and pay using smartphones, such as when in China. They are to be on their best behaviour, as any misdemeanour such as littering could be caught by facial recognition cameras.

Malaysian tourists who regularly pilfer items from hotels or shops while overseas could find their habits costly as they may have to spend a few nights in a lockup if unwilling to settle privately with these establishments by paying a hefty sum of money in lieu of a police report.

Previously, the only hassle international travellers were subject to was obtaining a visa and having a passport in hand. Today, they must show proof of acceptable vaccination, check in at every place they enter, check out when they leave, apart from checking their temperature.

They are also required to wear face masks in public places, particularly inside elevators, on escalators and public transport such as planes, trains and buses. And if masks are not worn properly and keep slipping down, they could be captured by CCTV cameras and penalised.

For tourists who are unwilling to adjust to the new norm, it would be a nightmare for them to travel, especially overseas. This is because many countries around the world would be very strict and enforcement officers would not be compromising on health, safety and security.

If outbound or incentive tour operators are unable to educate and monitor their tour group members while overseas, it would be better for everyone to stay home where penalties are less severe. If not, many would be in for a rude shock and no excuse at all for tour operators.

To mitigate such risks, there must be a clear standard operating procedure (SOP) for routine work and sound contingency plans, which are SOPs for coping with every possible disaster. 

If not, even large and reputable tour companies could be totally ruined overnight and wiped out financially.

YS CHAN is a tourism and transport consultant and writer.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

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