By Mariam Mokhtar
My exposé on the Perak Tourist Information Centre, Ipoh, which is managed by Ipoh City Council, in Ipoh Echo (Issue 129) did not go down well with the authorities. The messenger is normally shot, so the question is: “Why won’t the management work on the problems mentioned and rectify the situation?” How often does top management pay surprise visits to their own departments? Do they ever conduct self-audits?
If a visit is announced, it allows the people being inspected to put on a good show for the boss. The same effect is seen during ministerial visits when instant gardens appear, the place is given a new coat of paint, repairs are hastily made and everyone is warned to be on their best behaviour. All is perfect for a couple of hours, after which it is business as usual.
Return to Basics
Tourism, like charity, begins at home. Perakeans want the authorities to return to basics and tackle the problems of crime, public transport, amenities, safety on the roads and on our rivers, lakes and waterways, and the lack of cleanliness and hygiene.
Every time a person boards an express bus, or taxi, he wonders if this will be his last journey. The seat belts, like the meters in Ipoh’s taxis, rarely function, whilst stage buses appear to be driven by drivers who are clueless of the Highway Code.
Not every visitor tours with his own car. Many tourists, local and foreign, rely heavily on public transport. What has Ipoh to offer in the way of cheap, reliable and efficient public transport?
Tourists who drive are dismayed by poor signage. Try leaving the Taiping zoo after the night safari and navigating your way home. There are no signboards to direct you back onto the motorway. The roads are dimly lit making signboards invisible.
Of increasing notoriety are our public toilets. Washroom facilities are a continuing bane. Perhaps we have to reach out further to get the message to the general public. How much interaction is there between tourist site operators and the government departments representing education, information, health and public works?
Learn From Our Neighbours
Communication and work ethics are areas in which we are weak. One does not have to travel far to see how excellence can be achieved. The tourism industry of Thailand brings in repeat customers. In Singapore everything works like clockwork. Why can’t we be the same?
On recent visits to see fireflies in Kampung Dew and to explore Gua Tempurung, I specifically requested an English-speaking guide for my foreign visitors. I did not receive this and ended up translating for my guests. On another trip, my Japanese friends were fortunate to be able to understand Malay, but what about the thousands of foreigners who do not speak the language? If the Balinese and Thai can converse well in other languages, besides English, why can’t we train our tour guides to speak other languages?
I spoke to a few tour guides and they said they were willing to learn other languages, if their companies would help them acquire this knowledge. None had been offered financial assistance or time off to learn another language. Many felt that their managers had not asked them for ideas and contributions to improve the facilities. So should these employees have been more pro-active and told management of their ideas?
Perhaps these employees, who are paid a minimal wage, felt that they were unable to share any of the extra profits these companies would inevitably make. What system of rewards do these companies have for their staff, if any?
Was anyone aware that the boardwalk in the Kuala Sepetang, Matang Mangrove Reserve is under repair? Work started two months ago and should have been finished by now. However, a shortage of raw materials to upgrade the boardwalk means that it will probably be out of use till the end of 2011.
So the mangrove forest and on-site amenities, like the museum/information centre, the meeting room, chalets and catering facilities, are unusable. Surely the Perak Forestry Department could have informed the media and the Taiping Municipal Council about the closure so visitors would not be inconvenienced.
Protect Natural Assets
Perak’s natural assets are a magnet for both locals and foreigners. We must halt the destruction of these sites, and prevent uncontrolled development, such as the encroachment of the oil palm plantations onto fragile ecosystems like the mangrove swamps, the bird sanctuary and the natural habitat of the fireflies.
We must check illegal practices, like the indiscriminate logging of the Belum forest or quarrying and building near limestone hills. Even the lake at Gunung Lang is at risk from pollution.
If we are not careful Perak won’t be able to boast of any attractions other than its fast vanishing pomelo orchards.