Taking a wrong guided tour

KOTA KINABALU: The surprise decision by Federal Tourism Minister Ng Yen Yen to allow foreign tour guides to work in Sabah has been met with incredulity by locals in the industry and outrage by a MP

The Sabah Tourist Guide Association is particularly furious that its petition to work with the ministry to train foreign language-speaking guides was snubbed and a potentially job-crippling decision taken against local guides already struggling to make a living.

“It is an insult to the local tourism industry and workers here that the ministry had started to license foreign tour guides,” Sepangar MP Eric Majimbun told FMT today.

“This is an act of an intruder and suppressing the rice bowl of our local entrepreneurs. It must be stopped at once,” said Majimbun, who is also Sabah Progressive Party (SAPP) deputy president.

Ng’s surprise announcement on Monday that her ministry would entertain requests from foreign embassies to employ their nationals as tourist guides in Sabah has caught many in the industry by surprise.

She said the decision was a temporary measure to make up for the shortage of foreign-speaking guides in the state and the government had allowed 19 Koreans to take up localised tour guide course in Sabah.

Seven of them now have work permits and have been told to work with travel agencies and her ministry will be working with the Immigration Department to find out how to enable the remaining 12 to work here.

Ng also disclosed that the Russian Embassy had asked for Russian-speaking tour guides and her ministry would also liaise with the Immigration Department to provide them with work permits.

The decision, she said, was because more and more Korean and Russian tourists are visiting Sabah. There are currently eight registered Korean-speaking tour guides in the state.

However, Majimbun is not convinced.

He said the government should be assisting the association or at least consulting it to find ways to find foreign language-speaking tour guides to meet the demands of the increasing number of foreign tourist arrivals in Sabah.

Rescind decision

He agreed with association’s chairman Daniel Doughty’s call to rescind the decision to allow foreigners to attend localised tourist guide courses in the state and warned that the decision would affect the livelihood of local guides.

“The association members will now have to compete with foreigners to earn a living. This is really demoralising. The minister has said this employment of foreigners is temporary… what is the time limit for temporary approval?” Majimbun asked.

He criticised the way federal ministries were opening up the state to foreign workers without training locals for the jobs. Federal ministries should have long-term planning such as providing institutions for foreign languages.

“The Tourism Ministry should not be allowed to employ foreign tour guides who have no knowledge of the local tradition and culture as well as our local environment,” he said.

Majimbun also said that the local tourism authorities must support and give priority to the people of Sabah and not marginalise locals for profit.

SAPP secretary-general Richard Yong agreed with Majimbun, saying that Ng’s justification of the ministry’s decision to hire Korean tourist guides was absurd.

He said the ministry’s responsibility was to help boost the growth of tourism industry as a whole without compromising the interest of the local tourism industry.

“Employing Korean tourist guides is directly taking over the role of the local tourist guides and is equivalent to taking over their rice bowl.

“The minister said she would consider the request of other foreign countries to approve licence for foreign tourist guides to operate here. I have not seen any country doing such a thing that could hurt their own tourism industry.

“You always have a local tourist guide accompanying the tourists group when you take a tour in a foreign country,” Yong said.

The minister, he said, had overlooked the interest of Sabah tourism and has failed to see the difficulties and problems faced by the local tourist guides in terms of income and opportunities.

“The ministry’s decision could be sending the wrong signals to foreign tour companies. Once they start [coming here], it could lead to the demise of the local tourism industry,” he warned.