By Mariam Mokhtar
Visit Perak Year (VPY) 2012 must be Perak’s best kept secret. Why? When I paid a visit to the Perak Tourism Office beside the Ipoh Padang, the staff there were unaware it was VPY 2012; If they did, they kept it well under wraps.
Despite dropping several hints about a group of foreigners who were planning to tour as much of Perak as possible the following year, the two employees at the front counter, could not suggest any places of interest and did not breathe a word of VPY 2012 to me.
Front-Liners No Clue
Perak State tourism chairman, Hamidah Othman told the Ipoh Echo, last July, that “locals must think Tourism and do Tourism.”
She stressed, “Visit Perak Year 2012 will involve the whole state. We need to create awareness throughout the state and have the local residents as well as local councils to participate.”
It appears that either she or her assistant has forgotten to inform those at the front-line of the Perak Tourism Office, of VPY 2012.
Two years ago, I sought information at the same tourist office. I then wrote an article titled “Is Perak serious about promoting tourism?” in issue 80 of the IE.
Back then, it was a disappointment to see shabby, dusty exhibits and staff, who despite being friendly, appeared clueless about the attractions they should have been promoting.
Fast forward to 2011, and service has definitely worsened. Around 3.00 p.m. on Wednesday September 7, two men were manning the front counter of the tourist office. In a room, at the far end of a corridor, another man sat tapping on his computer.
Whilst one of the counter staff served an elderly Australian who had just walked in, the other was happily playing games on his computer. His monitor was visible to us and although he spotted us waiting, he made no attempt to attend to us.
After several minutes, the man at the end of the corridor, approached us, but instead of coming to our aid, or instructing the employee who was engrossed with his game, left the building.
Non-Existent Customer Service
Customer service at the tourism office is non-existent. We asked the counter staff, if the person at his desk was on lunch break and to help us if he wasn’t. He just looked at his seated colleague and said “no, he’s not on break”. He was clearly embarrassed because his colleague had heard our remarks but made no attempt to serve us and continued playing.
We asked for leaflets to the Mangrove Reserve near Taiping, before he continued serving the Australian visitor. We again enquired if his colleague was busy because we wanted information. This time, the Malay man got up, albeit reluctantly and said in ‘Bahasa’ to his colleague, “Yang ini, banyak sangat soalan” (This one, (asks) too many questions).
Perhaps, he had overheard me tell his colleague in English, that I was planning to bring some Europeans over the following year and he imagined I was also a foreigner and could not understand Malay. Perhaps, he was being deliberately rude.
Failed Before It Started
If this is how Perak Tourism employees respond to genuine local and foreign tourists, then VPY 2012 has failed before it started.
The command of spoken English of both employees was poor. The Malay man kept referring to his Indian colleague for confirmation, not just of the ‘Bahasa’ to English translation, but also of the answers to my questions about the places of interest.
Neither inspired confidence and both were hesitant when answering the questions that one would expect most tourists to ask, like directions to places and other attractions in the locale.
Visit Ipoh? Never Again
As we left the tourist office, I asked the Australian, who was waiting for a taxi, for his first impression of the tourism office.
He said, “It’s a dump. The staff are useless. I could not understand them and they did not know anything.”
I asked, “Did they tell you about VPY in 2012. Would you visit Ipoh again?”
His reply: “You must be joking. I’ve stayed in smaller towns in South East Asia where the people do not speak any English but they were more helpful and more accommodating. Visit Ipoh? Never again.”
Interestingly, last August, Ipoh Mayor Roshidi Hashim said he was preparing for VPY 2012 and had recently returned from a visit to Xiamen, Fujian and Shenyang China as part of a Ministry of Tourism’s “Sales Mission to China” delegation led by Tourism Minister Ng Yen Yen.
Roshidi wanted to promote Ipoh food as part of Tourism Malaysia’s “Fabulous Food 1Malaysia” programme. He also announced that the Ipoh City Council had allocated RM4 million to upgrade its tourism related facilities; with most of it specifically for the heritage trail of Ipoh Old Town.
Perakians are weary of civil servants and politicians going for a jolly abroad, ostensibly to promote local tourism or for study trips, at the taxpayers’ expense. Moreover, tourism is not just about the heritage trail in Ipoh or food only.
Tourism Office First Port of Call
Many tourists make the tourism office their first port of call. It is important that the Perak tourism office staff are friendly, helpful and can offer advice on Ipoh and beyond.
If they appear disinterested, how can they promote Perak successfully? If they lack motivation, then their leaders are to be blamed.
My second experience at the Perak tourism office has been disappointing. Lessons have not been learnt.