Much confusion over the terms ‘tourism’ and ‘travel’


By CY Ming

I refer to the July 22 Bernama report titled: “Foreign tourism companies urged to use local guides”.

Several terms in the tourism industry and travel sector are wrongly used or misunderstood to the extent of causing confusion, which has resulted in the loss of precious time and money.

For example, the government was correct to name the Ministry of Tourism and Culture (Motac), and not the Ministry of Tourism, Hospitality and Culture.

Hospitality as an industry encompasses all types of hotels that provide accommodation, and restaurants offering a variety of food and beverages. These two major sectors plus shopping accounted for 71.5% of all tourism receipts from foreign visitors last year.

But our local universities are fond of offering tourism and hospitality courses, which are too wide and academic, and the result is that over 90% of these graduates do not work in the tourism industry, as they lack specialised skills and knowledge to perform the job well.

Those who wish to work in hotels could have studied hotel management, and those interested to work in the kitchen should have picked up one of the culinary arts.

Instead of using “tourism companies” in the report, it is better to be specific by calling them outbound tour companies or operators, and their local counterparts as inbound tour companies or operators.

The term “local tour guides” was wrongly used and there is no such thing as “foreign tourist guides”.

In Malaysia, the official term is tourist guides whereas tour guides are more commonly used internationally. Whichever is better depends on the interpretation of the job.

Tourist guides seem to suggest that tourists need to be guided, whereas tour guides place emphasis on the tour, which could be more meaningful with commentaries.

Interestingly, I have asked thousands of people in the tourism industry and hundreds of tourist guides, but none could describe correctly what the basic job of a tourist guide is.

I would ask for the participants’ response when conducting training and there were usually 10 different versions or more. Although all the answers were not wrong, none was complete.

But when I asked what the basic job of a postman was, the first respondent would always give the correct answer that was accepted by all present.

In Malaysia, most are “City Tourist Guides” and they are permitted to guide tourists throughout the country. It would not be practical for them to travel with a tour group across the South China Sea.

When a tour group travels overland by bus from Kuala Lumpur to Penang or Kuala Terengganu, the same tourist guide would be with the group throughout, and conduct sightseeing tours in Ipoh or Kuantan. Local tourist guides based there would be bystanders.

Another category is “Local Nature Tourist Guides” who can guide tourists only within the natural areas where they were selected and registered to obtain their license. As on August 31, 2015, the total number of registered guides was 15,405.

There are no “foreign tourist guides” as tourist guides can only practise in the country where they are licensed, unlike International Driving Permits.

A tour leader would be appointed by the company that organised an overseas tour for a group. In countries where tourist guides are not licensed, some of the experienced tour leaders doubled up as tourist guides.

There are no “international tourist guides”, as mistaken by top two academics running the faculty for hospitality and tourism of a local public university. They wanted to conduct an “international tourist guide course” several years ago for graduating students.

As only tourism training institutes licensed by Motac and accredited with the Department of Skills Development can conduct tourist guide courses, the two academics, one with a PhD in tourism and the other a Master, was looking for collaboration.

Upon hearing “international tourist guides”, I knew instantly they were referring to tour leaders, which anyone can conduct a course for, and there was no need to drive a few hundred kilometres to see me.

Many in the travel sector are not much better as I have to ask several questions before unearthing their core business when they should have articulated it clearly to promote it.

Very few know what TOBTAB (Tour Operating Business and Travel Agency Business) is, under which their companies are licensed.

Motac grants three types of licences for the tours and travel businesses. Travel agencies, which are mainly agencies for airlines, hotels and tour wholesalers, are licensed under “Ticketing”. New companies are granted “Inbound” initially to promote inbound and domestic tours before “Outbound” is added, allowing them to organise tours overseas.

As for the 26,757,392 foreign tourists that visited Malaysia last year, over 90% were independent travellers. Those that arrived in groups booked their transfers and sightseeing services in advance with local inbound tour operators, who in turn engaged the services of tourist guides.

The root cause of the recent flare up in Sabah was over shopping commissions, as tour leaders and tourist guides often make more money from this source than profits earned by tour companies from the same tour group.

CY Ming is an FMT reader.

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Foreign tourism companies urged to use local guides