According to the latest Tourism Satellite Account released by the Department of Statistics on September 27, the number of people employed in the tourism industry increased by 4.9 percent to 3.5 million last year and contributed a hefty 23.5 percent of total employment in the country!

Tourism is a sprawling business overlapping many industries and the major sectors are retail trade, accommodation, food and beverage, passenger transport and entertainment such as theme parks, with agencies making travel arrangements and operators organising or providing tour services.

Next year is Visit Malaysia 2020 and local industry players are looking forward to receiving 30 million foreign tourist arrivals and earning RM100 billion in tourism receipts. This is in addition to another RM100 billion that will be spent by domestic visitors in the country next year.

But are we ready to provide the level of service that customers will come back for more? If the experience is something visitors rather forget, the number of tourists will drop after 2020. In Visit Malaysia 2014, we had 27.44 million and the number dropped to 25.72 million the following year.

Last year, we recorded 25.83 million arrivals and targeting 28.1 million this year. If this figure is achieved, a 6.8 percent increase next year will breach the 30 million mark. But tourism is beyond counting heads as tourism receipts are far more important.

Tourism receipts can be boosted by increasing visitors’ length of stay, attracting more high-end travellers and facilitating tourists to spend more. All visitors should be welcomed as those staying in tourist-class hotels can also be spending a lot on shopping.

Welcoming tourists is beyond putting up signs or saying ‘Selamat Datang’, although they are a must but lacking in many places thronged by visitors. Without showing courtesy, there is no customer service. We must also ensure they are not inconvenient, comfortable, secure and safe.

Without us realising, courtesy is on display all the time. If we don’t show it, we don’t have it. For example, if lavatories are dirty, grandiose vision and mission statements and impressive key performance indicators are nothing more than a load of bunkum to be flushed down the toilet.

Apart from facilities, frontliners in both public and private sectors play pivotal roles in making tourists feel welcomed. Residents too can make a huge impact on visitors by playing the role of ambassador for the local area by going out of their way to greet and offer assistance or information.

Most people in public places tend to avoid eye contact with one another unless they find someone attractive. Tourists are usually left alone undisturbed until they approach someone for assistance. Who they choose depends very much on the person’s body language and facial expression.

First impression can be formed within seconds before a word is spoken. Frontliners ought to be mindful that they are being observed by others from afar and many people can read another person like a book from a distance. As such, frontliners must not wait to put on a smile at the last moment.

If the staff can smile and establish eye contact followed by a nod or a wave, the first exchange of greetings and messages is bound to be pleasant. Most people think we merely communicate information without realising that feelings, which we are constantly gauging, are more important.

As such, we must take into cognisance our feelings towards tourists, as how we feel or our attitude determines what we think and say, revealed in the tone of our voice, shown in our facial expression and displayed by our body language.

Next, we must learn to greet and be quick to say thank you, welcome, please, excuse me, may I, and I am sorry — regardless of who is at fault. Likewise, we should be generous with compliments such as you look great today, nice shirt/jacket, nice blouse/dress, and you are so kind/thoughtful.

Uniformed personnel look great only when wearing a smile, which costs nothing but gives much. Although it takes only a moment, the memory can last forever. Happiness is a choice and those who are not happy are not so smart after all. Success is showing others that you are happy to help.

For tourism to succeed, we must also show duty of care towards visitors by ensuring their safety, security, comfort and convenience. Visitors who have enjoyed the experience of their life will come back for more and are more effective than all other promotions combined.

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