Little change in local tours over 47 years

When I was between 21 and 23 years old, I sold life and general insurance fulltime but lacked the determination to do well and failed miserably. My brother then introduced me to his former company boss who was running the largest tour company in the country.

After a short interview, I went for a test drive with the boss at the rear seat. Although I had obtained my driving licence four years earlier, I hardly had the chance to drive. The test car was a limousine taxi, a full-size American car with automatic transmission.

Until then, I had only driven cars with manual transmission and had to step hard on the brake pedal to slow down as they were not power-assisted, and harder on the clutch pedal. I could feel my back pushing into the seat when stepping on the stiff clutch pedal of a Morris Oxford.

For the test drive, I steered the car well and drove smoothly with the automatic transmission except for slowing down. The brakes were power-assisted and require only a featherlight touch, which I was not used to. As a result, the boss jerked forward whenever I applied the brakes.

But I was taken in to work as a tourist guide cum limousine driver in 1973. Earlier, Malaysia hosted the Pacific Area Travel Association (Pata) conference for the first time in January 1972, and Tourist Development Corporation was formed in August the same year.

On my first day at work, I was told to observe an experienced tourist guide conduct a full day sightseeing tour by bus around Kuala Lumpur. On my second day, I was thrown in at the deep end and had to conduct the tour myself, but none of the passengers could tell it was my first.

Several months later, I attended the seventh Kuala Lumpur Tourist Guide Training Course and in 1975, licensing of tourist guide was introduced. From 1990 to 2000, I was part-time lecturer in tourist guide courses and examiner for oral, slides and commentaries.

In the 1970s, tour buses were imported new or used from Japan and they were either Nissan, Isuzu or Mitsubishi models, all fitted with air-suspension for the front and rear axles. Today, many buses running around are using sturdy but bumpy leaf springs more suited for lorries.

I served in various positions for 19 years in my first tour company, which was the pioneer in car rental, limousine and tour bus services in the country. When I joined 47 years ago, it was conducting daily sightseeing tours by bus in Kuala Lumpur and Penang.

But today, many cities in the country are still not offering affordable bus tours for tourists to join for sightseeing around the vicinity. It showed that local tour operators have been clueless and until this get off the ground, local tourism will remain at its infancy like half a century ago.

Sadly, tour operators owning a fleet of tour buses, which are likely to remain idle for a long time, are also in the same boat. For example, an overnight trip from Kuala Lumpur to Melaka or Kuantan will cost a bomb for tourists, as there are no affordable bus tours available.

Just as a passenger would only pay for an airline seat and not for aircraft charter, a tourist would want to join a bus tour and not pay the high cost of chartering a vehicle.

Crisscrossed with highways, Peninsular Malaysia is a holiday paradise for road tours, and likewise for Sabah and Sarawak upon completion of the Pan Borneo Highway.

With surplus of unutilised buses in the second half of this year, it will be an opportune time to launch “Around Peninsular Malaysia” tours that I have conceptualised when the second phase of the East-West Highway was completed in 2005.

A large tour company or a consortium of smaller ones could easily pool 18 tour buses and run them on daily basis around the peninsula. The cities or destinations are to include Kuala Lumpur, Cameron Highlands, Ipoh, Penang, Kota Bharu, Kuantan, Johor Bahru and Melaka.

Every morning, a tour bus will depart from a hotel in one city to the next with sightseeing tour in the afternoon and dinner transfer at the destination. It will require eight buses running in clockwise direction and another eight anti-clockwise.

Another two buses could traverse between Kuala Lumpur and Kuantan in opposite direction daily. Such an arrangement would give tourists the options to stay one or more nights at any one of the eight destinations or to cover four, six or all eight cities.

When demand picks up, another operator can jump on the bandwagon by running the same routes but using different hotels. Healthy competition is good for everyone. Should a tour bus break down, passengers could swiftly be transferred to another operated by the competitor.

Such arrangement and cooperation inspire confidence. Travel agents from all over the world would recommend Malaysia as a great holiday destination for affordable bus tours, and tourists would feel safe and secure travelling in buses disinfected daily.

But I have yet to see existing bus operators offering daily intercity tours, which can help fill hotel rooms around the peninsula. Hopefully, the silence is because they have something up their sleeves, or they prefer to wait and continue with business as usual without change.

YS Chan,
Petaling Jaya