It’s a time when the exchange rate is very favourable for foreigners to come here and shop. And Malaysia is definitely worth the money.

Datuk Mohamaddin Ketapi, Tourism, Arts and Culture Minister 

Many people understand what tourism, hospitality, visitor, tourist or excursionist means but when these words are used as tourism terms, few industry experts or learned academics could interpret them meaningfully.

For example, tourism comprises the activities of persons traveling to and staying in places outside their usual environment for not more than one consecutive year for leisure, business and other purposes, as defined by the United Nations World Tourism Organisation.

But I prefer to describe tourism as a huge business with many sectors and overlaps many industries. A clear picture can be seen from tourist expenditures. In the first nine months of this year, over 20 million foreign tourists spent over RM66 billion in the country.

They were spent on shopping 35.2 percent, accommodation 21.6 percent, food & beverage 12.0 percent, local transportation 7.8 percent, international airfares by local airlines 7.0 percent, on-site tours 5.3 percent, medical 3.7 percent, entertainment 3.5 percent, domestic airfares 1.8 percent, fuel 1.0 percent, sports and others 1.1 percent.

The 2018 Tourism Satellite Account released by the Department of Statistics in September this year stated that 23.5 percent of total employment, or 3.5 million persons, are in the tourism industry, and more than two-thirds are in food & beverage and retail trade.

Clearly, tourism is too wide for anyone to study or manage, but tourism management programmes are offered by many tertiary institutions, with some naming them Hospitality & Tourism Management when the former is only part of the latter and not side by side.

Hospitality industry should encompass only accommodation and food & beverage. These two sectors are closely connected, unlike other sectors that are a different kettle of fish altogether, as they are operated by different businesses and require different expertise and licensing.

Those who wish to work in hotels should study hotel management and those preferring restaurants should learn culinary arts. These graduates are highly employable as their studies focused on industry-relevant knowledge and job skills.

On the other hand, those who studied anything and everything about tourism gained only superficial knowledge, falsely believing that they can work in any field like a jack-of-all-trades but in fact a master of none. Sadly, most tourism graduates do not work in the tourism industry.

Visitors come from another place to meet someone, check out an attraction or soak in the local experience. If the trip does not include overnight stay, these visitors are termed as excursionists. If they stayed for the night, they are counted as tourists at overnight locations.

For example, visitors from Singapore stopping over for lunch in Melaka are excursionists and staying overnight at Genting Highlands are tourists. This information may appear trivial to the public but are important for those in the tourism industry.

Last year, there were more than 10 million tourist arrivals from Singapore. Each time a Singaporean entered Malaysia and stayed at least one night, the person is counted, regardless of whether the accommodation was in a hotel or in his or her private residence.

To tap their tourist dollar, businesses must find out what Singaporean tourists spent on. On average, they spent over RM1,000 per day per person, second only to the Saudis who also stayed the longest, averaging more than 10 nights.

Many people assume they know what a travel agent, tour leader and tourist guide is. The term travel agent is a misnomer. At best, it can be used to describe the owner or very senior staff of a travel or tour company, like banker for banks.

An agency is a firm, which can be a syarikat or sole proprietorship as for insurance agents. For travel agencies, it must be a sendirian berhad or private limited company. As such, the public should not be dealing with any agent or individual for their travel or tour arrangements, including those operating freelance after gaining some trade experience.

And no individual, including tourist guide or tour leader, is permitted to collect payment for travel or tour services arranged by him or her, or act as tour operator. Only companies licensed under the Tour Operating Business and Travel Agency Business are permitted to do so.

Tour leaders are appointed by outbound tour companies to escort tour groups overseas and assist in check-ins at airports and hotels, and ensure all pre-arranged services are provided by the respective suppliers at various destinations.

Tourist guides must be knowledgeable, friendly and helpful and their basic job is to use a tour bus or van to provide transfers and tours pre-arranged by tour operators as stated in the itinerary.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the New Sarawak Tribune.