Speaking to FMT, Lee said local travel agents were slowly “dying off” and would have to diversify to remain in business.
“The only way for us to fight back is to look for alternatives and become more creative, such as becoming product owners operating our own transportation and accommodation,” he said.
According to Lee, Agoda and Booking.com are to local travel agencies what Uber is to taxis.
What’s made it worse, he said, was that online agencies weren’t forced to follow regulations.
“We local travel agents have our dos and don’ts,” he said. “For example, we have to pay for our licences to operate while the online travel agencies don’t have to. We’re also not getting that much support from the government.”
An official of Malaysian Inbound Tourism Association (Mita) echoed Lee’s sentiment, saying that there was no way to compete with online travel agencies.
“We can’t fight them,” said Adam Kamal, one of Mita’s deputy presidents. “All we can do is think of creative ways to remain relevant. In that way, we’ll at least be able to have a small piece of the pie rather than nothing at all.”
He added that one of the ways Mita had tried to adapt to the new situation was to offer custom-made packages to cater to large groups or first-time travellers. He said this had resulted in a slight increase in customers, but he added that Mita was still only “salvaging” what it could out of the business.