Dr Amir Hashim Abdul Rahim or Mark Amir is a tour operator with a difference – he has a doctorate in tourism.
IN the tourism industry, Dr Amir Hashim Abdul Rahim who goes by the moniker Dr Mark Amir, stands out. He has been in this line for more than two decades and is probably the only tour operator who holds a PhD in tourism.
“It’s important to make sure my guests know what they’re in for and are comfortable. Service is my top priority. Otherwise, it will reflect badly on my company,” says Dr Mark.
Like most people in the tourism industry, Dr Mark started off as a tour guide with a travel agency before becoming a freelancer. With two young kids, he wasn’t keen on doing outstation tours too often. So, he sourced for contacts in city hotels and established his company in 1984. It’s one of the largest daily tour companies specialising in city tours at affordable rates, catering mostly to hotel guests.
“These are the simplest tours to conduct because we know hotels are in need of such tours. We don’t keep the guests overnight . . . we just take them around and send them home. I’d rather stick to the tried and tested method,” he shares, adding that Tour 51 services around 75,000 passengers yearly.
For RM50, you can hop onto a coach and get a three-hour tour of the city. Highlights in Kuala Lumpur include a stop at the Petronas Twin Towers, visits to jewellery showrooms, Istana Negara, National Monument, National Museum, National Mosque and the Sultan Abdul Samad Building.
While the company continued to expand, Dr Mark decided to take a sabbatical overseas and pursue his interest in golf management. Home for the next two years was San Diego, California. He learnt everything there was about golfing and upon returning, took up a position as national coach for junior golfers at the National Sports Council.
It was a short stint and one he doesn’t have many fond memories of. Soon, he was back full-time in the tour business.
“I used to hang out with my buddies quite a bit but once we returned from the US, my wife wouldn’t let me go out at night!” he chuckles.
With so much time on his hands, Dr Mark decided to pursue his post-graduate studies and eventually, embarked on a doctorate programme. It was during 1998-1999 and tourism was booming. His dissertation was entitled Key Success Factors for the Tourism Industry in Malaysia: A Comparative Story. No one had written on the topic.
But the going was tough. He recounts the stumbling blocks he encountered to obtain information from local officials.
Dr Mark complains, “I literally had to go begging for statistics. The officials were extremely uncooperative. They don’t have any supporting documents or any literature in their research department! Can you believe that?”
Left with scarce material, his research hit a snag and it took him a longer time to finish.
Among the things his research revealed was that the industry has not kept up with times, there was a lack of innovation in terms of marketing our products and the unwillingness of the authorities to introduce new elements for the growth of tourism.
His key findings further showed that certain elements could be promoted on a wider scale but were under-utilised. These include culture, infrastructure, political stability and the relationship between government and private sector.
“We have so much to learn from Thailand. We need to shape the demand of tourism instead of delivering what we have. Our industry is stymied.
“We don’t have products that can keep our tourists longer. After a few days, they usually want to go to Singapore or Thailand. We can no longer sell multiculturalism as a product; we need to move to other areas.”
Indeed, with the emergence of low cost airline Air Asia, it is cheaper to go out of Malaysia than travel domestically. Also, people have more cash to splurge so they prefer travelling out of the country.
For his business, he says there has been no increase in tourist numbers this year. Rather, the figures for January remain the same as last year.
Dr Mark believes he can change things so he is running for the presidency of Malaysian Association of Tour and Travel Agents (Matta) come June. He has got his manifesto ready and intends to reorganise things in the industry.
He says, “It’s about time someone does something. I hope I can offer my knowledge to improve things, especially with this being Visit Malaysia Year and all.”
Intent on developing the industry further, Dr Mark also offers free tuition on the subject to students and interested parties. He provides his office facilities for research purposes, interviews, distribution of questionnaires and puts them in touch with the right people.