President of Malaysian Tourist Guides Council (MTGC)
Founded in 1967, MTGC’s objective is to promote the highest possible standards for tourist guides and to provide exceptional tourist experiences for travellers of all nationalities. Jimmy Leong has been the president since 1999. Since then, he has been a significant spokesperson for ethical conduct among tourist guides encouraging cultural narratives, promotional initiatives, discourse and more. Jimmy’s keen eye and influence on the council keeps everyone in the industry accountable.
How important are tour guides for the industry and for touristic experience to travellers in general? How would you explain MTGC’s role with tour guides all over Malaysia?
Tour guiding has an important and multi-faceted role in Malaysia’s tourism industry. What tour guides present and interpret of our country affects the way in which their customers experience a place or attraction, understand the local culture and engage in local activities. Their roles and influences are key to making the programme a success and attracting repeating visitors who may even bring along families and friends. In short, tour guides ‘make’ or ‘break’ a vacation.
The role of tour guides distinguishes itself by their potential to manage and orchestrate tourist experiences; enhances destination’s reputation; promote and generate repeat visitations and to implement responsible tourism.
With this in mind, MTGC highly endorses the need to provide adequate effective training for tour guides in Malaysia, establishing needed standards, supervising practices, and above all, involving them in projects and activities at the destination level. Tour guides should be treated and motivated as for instance, stakeholders in Malaysia’s tourism development so that the Malaysian government can make sure that they fulfil their obligation to build and maintain the framework to professional performances, behaviour, conduct and responsibilities that deserve the public’s trust and support.
How important has it been for MTGC to form a strong relationship with the Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture Malaysia (MOTAC) and what have been the outcomes of this partnership?
In order to represent MTGC and the tourism community interests to the Ministry for mutual benefits, a two-way partnership is essential for the sake of a greater tourism strategy.
Meaningful partnerships are the foundation for both the Government and MTGC’s success. MTGC defines this relationship as a mutual agreement between two or more parties in which all participants agree to work together for a common purpose or undertake a specific task and to share responsibilities, resources, competences and benefits. Partnerships are what enable many tourism players to develop and grow sustainably.
We describe our relationship with the Ministry as strong but more can be achieved if more communication and meeting sessions are to be carried out to understand the tour guiding profession and the feedbacks we receive constantly on the ground level expressed by the visitors we handled to improve the industry.
Where do you draw your passion for the tourism industry?
Firstly, it has always been the people around me as a team. Secondly, it is experiences and knowledge that I acquired from other organisations that have continuously given me ideas and support to make changes, implement policies and to lead the industry to the next level. I have always reminded myself that success is a narrow path, but as a dedicated team that dares to forge ahead not waiting on guarantees; the right time never comes if we are waiting at the wrong place. Where any dream has a fighting chance, there’s a way.
What are the current problems in the tourism industry that ought to be addressed?
The tourism industry urgently needs a government task force to oversee and address the crucial issues at the various land entry points in the country especially the CIQs (Customs, Immigration, and Quarantine) in Johor Bahru and the Secondlink as we can no longer afford to receive negative reporting from visitors facing delays in their clearances as well as filthy toilets facilities. There must be a completely reliable border control management to oversee these issues. Illegal MPVs fetching tourists, unlicensed tour operators and unlicensed tourist guides must be removed in order to develop the industry in the right track.
What is your vision for MTGC and its holistic contribution to the tourism industry as a whole?
The roles of tour guides have evolved and travellers’ wants and needs require new skill sets, for example, better interpersonal relationships and intellect that enhances and enriches one’s visit to our country. Travellers are globetrotting in smaller numbers, as less people are inclined to buy tour packages and join large groups. MTGC’s proposal to MOTAC in 2005 predicted the change in travel habits, so we proposed for tour guides to drive tourism vans; this was already put in place in many ASEAN countries. This proposal is strictly for the extension of tour guides services where tour guides can also drive a tourism vehicle and guide at them same time. All these services however, must be regulated by MOTAC as well as JPJ rules, nregulations and conditions. MTGC stronglym believes this move will create a holistic change to the tourism business environment.
Digitilisation has pervaded industries globally, has the Malaysian tourism industry caught up with this movement? In what ways is technology improving the lives of tour guides?
The tourism and economic landscape of Asia is undergoing a massive dynamic transformation to embrace the technological revolution. Portals such as Agoda, AirBnB, Grab and TripAdvisor has greatly changed the structure of the tourism supply chain in the past decade. Yet over the years in Malaysia we see very small numbers of projects usually involve digital business transformation. Tourism business owners fear the costs of integrating legacy systems. Even if a digitalisation project succeeds enterprises are afraid of becoming ‘hostage’ to a vendor, especially for the future upgrading costs of its systems. On the other hand, the new age tourism market has seen growing numbers of FIT – free independent travellers who are both small groups and individuals, planning their own journey and experience using the Internet and using established websites to make theirtravel choices. Through the Internet tour guides can now actively market their services on the many available online aggregators such as TripAdvisor, Viator, GetYourGuide, LokaLocal, Unscripted and many more. These aggregators whom we term as travel tech firms have undeniably created work opportunities and visibility for tour guide’s services. This directly have positive impact on the economy of the tour guides. The tour guides can express their creativity and quality services and yet be competitive. These aggregators are now viewed as partners to tour guides. Both the Internet and travel tech firms have impacted positively, the economy and opportunities for tour guides in Malaysia.
The airport is the first point of contact between the country’s tourism industry and the traveller. In your opinion, what is the significance of an airport in the tourism industry and where do you see tour guides contributing to this relationship?
Airports play a significant role in the tourism industry, providing clean and safe services closely monitored by international agencies that rank the airports according to strict benchmarks. Such detailed benchmarks are not consolidated for other forms of transportation hubs. Along with cleanliness, safety and security comes airport hospitality, which is expected to be exemplary for lasting, positive impressions in the minds of tourists.
Therefore, airports and its facilities are significant to the growth, development, and capacity building on a country’s tourism industry. The facilities, from basic CIQ requirements, to growing trends and needs of travellers like free, efficient technology e.g. Wi-Fi, good variety of food and beverage outlets, lounges, and international brands that cater to all levels of shopping, are critical to ensure that travellers, be it for business, pleasure or family visits, are made to feel welcome, the moment they arrive, and stay connected with their colleagues or their loved ones.
Tour guides are the first point of contact for tourist after arrival clearance formalities. They are the country’s goodwill ambassadors and continue from the initial positive impressions by the clearing agencies to reassure visitors of a memorable stay in the country. The Malaysian tour guides are skilled in end-to-end service delivery, not only in airport environment but, for all modes of transport, meeting the high service standards set by the government.
Personally, what is your favourite aspect in travelling?
The best moment for most travellers is seeing new places and meeting new people but its about opening new horizon to experience completely different cultures and learning how to interact with different people to know their stories which can impact me on a greater level thus understanding oneself and igniting creativity.
Many of us Malaysians grow up with all the comforts of the modern world and had the opportunity to do many things we want to do. On the other hand, travelling to other countries, particularly those in the developing world can be a wakeup call to put our own life in perspective. Things that we may take for granted like having modern appliances and clean running water from the taps will probably come away with a new appreciation for everything we have.
My most memorable and adventurous trip was when I drove from Malaysia to London in the year 2016 by road across thirteen countries covering 18,500 kilometres. This experience made me see life differently.