By James Gough
Over the last two months, Dato’ Hamidah Osman, Perak’s State Executive Councillor for Tourism, together with her team from Tourism Perak, have been going around the state checking on all 10 Tourist Icons of Perak to ensure the state is ready for the anticipated influx of 5 million tourists targeted for Visit Perak Year 2012. Well, the products may be ready but are the service providers that provide the feeder services also ready?
Ancillary Services Critical to Success of VPY 2012
While Hamidah has traversed the whole state from Gua Tempurung, Gopeng to Royal Belum in Grik and took in the Royal Town of Kuala Kangsar and Pangkor Island as well, all part of the 10 Tourist Icons of Perak, questions arise as to the ancillary services, such as: Are the buses and taxis that physically transport visitors to the icons available? Are there sufficient tour guides around to explain to visitors the wonderful points of our tourism products and in the visitor’s native tongue? Are the local tour agents supportive in promoting and ferrying inbound tourists to the 10 icons?
Meanwhile, the promotions for all these sites have been moving along, such as: wrap-around buses highlighting VPY 2012; billboards on the highway, between KL and Ipoh, portraying alluring Pangkor Island; and similarly displayed at KLIA, LCCT, Singapore and KL Sentral.
In actual fact the entire state machinery has been working towards the success of VPY 2012, with MB Dato’ Seri DiRaja Zambry Abdul Kadir chairing a meeting at his residence one night before a public holiday where all state executive councillors and district councils were present.
However, a recent negative report by Ipoh Echo about the inadequacies of the service provided by the Tourist Information Centre at Ipoh Padang, and a recent outburst by the Chairman of the Malaysian Chinese Tour Agents Association, has glaringly highlighted a disconnect to ensure the success of VPY 2012.
Tourism is About Pleasant Memories
Tourism is all about pleasant memories. Tourists who have enjoyed their visits will go home and tell a few friends and would consider coming for a second visit. On the other hand, it is a well-known marketing fact that a dissatisfied tourist will tell many more people to avoid a destination like the plague.
Recently, Ipoh Echo received feedback from a visitor about difficulty visiting the Icons of Perak. The visitor is what the industry terms as FIT or Foreign Individual Tourist. She tried enquiring about getting on a local tour but was told that if she could get a group together, then the local operator could organise one. To get to the the Royal Town of Kuala Kangsar, the only option she had was to hire a taxi that would take her to the places of interest. The taxi man did take her to a few of the locations on the brochure and the tourist felt very disgruntled as she felt that the price she paid for four hours of the taxi time was way too high since the actual travel time to and from Kuala Kangsar took up at least one and a half hours, and not enough time was left to explore the sights.
Similarly for Gua Tempurung, getting there was the problem. There was no public bus service so it was by taxi and at higher cost. Fortunately, there was a group of students at Gua Tempurung that morning so she paid the nominal group tour fare and joined the guided tour.
But should a tourist have to put up with the hassle of having to ‘search’ for transport to get them to a tourist site? Logically after spending millions to promote the tourist sites the next step should be to make the sites as easily accessible as possible.
Tourism Retreat Findings
In April this year MOTOUR Perak, a branch of the Ministry of Tourism together with NGOs and the State Government organised a Perak Tourism Retreat. Its goal was to analyse the tourism industry state-wide and make recommendations on the way forward. Identifying the six tourism clusters, Northern Perak, Taiping, Kuala Kangsar, Ipoh, Pangkor and Kampung Gajah, was one of the results of the Retreat.
Inadequate Bus Services
Another finding from the Retreat was the inadequate bus services. Although a bus service was available to the various Districts it did not extend directly to the tourist sites themselves. Some examples are: Gua Tempurung, Gopeng, Banding Lake at Royal Belum or Lenggong Museum, all of which are a considerable distance from the main roads.
Similarly for Ipoh, although there is a bus service, commuters say that the bus schedules are not published and do not run on time. Commuters are unaware of the Ipoh City Tour bus service, although it was launched in the middle of this year, to ferry visitors and tourists to and from their hotels to popular places of interest, food courts and restaurants.
The alternative mode is to use a taxi. However, taxi fares here do not run on a meter and are at the whim and fancy of taxi operators.
Entry Points and First Impressions
The Retreat also identified Ipoh to be the ‘main gateway into the state” as the airport, railway station and express bus companies are located here. The recommendation proposed was to ‘create a tourism-focused area in Ipoh’ from which to ferry visitors ‘to other tourist attractions in the state’.
Of the three transport modes, the express buses ferry the most number of visitors or commuters into the state annually and is said to be several millions more when compared to air and rail modes.
Unfortunately, the entry points for bus commuters at Medan Gopeng and Kidd Road Bus Terminus, provide a most dismal first impression of Ipoh due to its shabby image and haphazard operations structure.
A check with Dato’ Samsuddin Hashim, the Chief Executive of Perak State Development Corporation, the owners of Medan Gopeng terminal, confirmed that the Corporation will be taking over the management of the terminal but, due to an on-going ‘legal issue’, the upgrading of the bus terminal area can only be carried out after the first quarter of next year.
Samsuddin added that the upgrading plans included discussions with Ipoh City Council and the Drainage and Irrigation Department who would look into the large drain adjacent to the road before entering the bus parking bay.
The immediate plan is to relocate the hawker stalls currently outside the complex into the Silveritage Complex area and landscape the exterior. This will be completed by December.
Ipoh Airport is currently under expansion and is scheduled for completion by September next year.
Tour Agents and Inbound Tours
There is a perception that local travel agents promote more outbound than inbound tours. “Not so,” says MATTA Perak Chairman Ranjit Singh, adding that its members do promote inbound packages. The inbound tour charge is around RM200 and usually “caters to a van load which is approximately 6-8 passengers” at a rate of RM25-RM35 per head.
The role of the tour guide is to bring life to a product. All tour guides are licensed and can practise throughout the country. The Ministry of Tourism has a guideline that for any coach with more than 8 passengers it must be accompanied by a tour guide. According to several sources this ruling is being implemented strictly in KL and Penang but not so in Perak.
Private Sector Participation
According to Syahruddin Abdul Hamid, the Director of MOTOUR Perak Office, the Tourism Industry is very much a “Private Sector Led Industry”. Hence in order to ensure that VPY 2012 succeeds in meeting its goals, a dialogue must be held with all the stakeholders and industry players to iron out all the ‘disconnects’ in the system.
A check with Dato’ Hamidah acknowledged that she was aware of the issue and would be sitting with all the industry players. “Let us not forget that 2013 is Visit Malaysia Year. Lets fine tune during 2012 and reap the full benefits for 2013,” added Hamidah.