Monday, March 26, 2007

Tourists’ pains and pleasures

KUALA LUMPUR: They love the friendly faces, the potpourri of cultures, the landscape and the shopping.

But if we don’t clean up our act, literally, tourists are unlikely to return to Malaysia.

Not surprisingly, the disgraceful state of our toilets tops the list of complaints that tourists have about the country.

"Tourists are quite shocked when they visit our toilets. The toilets are dirty, wet, smelly and are often without toilet paper or soap," lamented Malaysian Tourist Guides Council president Jimmy Leong Wie Kong.

"And it is not just the public toilets, but those in restaurants and other eateries as well.

"While they have no complaints about the toilets at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport, they get a rude shock when they visit the poorly-maintained toilets in the city and the outskirts."

Errant cabbies, especially those who charge outrageous fares, are also high on the tourists’ list of woes.

"They complained that the cabbies did not use the meter, while some were rude," said Leong.

"It’s disheartening to hear such complaints because courteous and honest taxi drivers reflect the maturity of a country’s tourism industry."

Many tourists also complained about pickpockets.

"What worries them are the pickpockets in crowded shopping malls, bazaars and street markets, especially in the Bukit Bintang area. Many have experienced or witnessed such incidents."

Leong said the presence of policemen or other enforcement authorities in such areas would go a long way in allaying their fears.

Beggars are another bugbear and their presence in major cities and towns is discomfiting to the tourists, like beggars who have stationed themselves near the Customs exit checkpoint along the Johor Causeway.

"It’s very embarrassing. As we go around praising the good things about our country, including our efforts to eradicate poverty, the tourists see these beggars."

Leong said the council had on numerous occasions raised this problem with the authorities.

"The Customs and Welfare Departments keep passing the buck and in the meantime, the beggars continue to operate there."

Overpriced souvenirs, untrained and ill-informed tour coach drivers, and the hot weather were also among other complaints that Leong had received.

Tourists have said they were able to buy cheaper pewterware and batik goods in neighbouring countries.

"It should be the reverse because we are manufacturers of such beautiful handicraft."

Leong suggested that tourism-related training be extended to coach drivers so that they would be able to communicate better with tourists.

"Many of our coach drivers are not tourist-oriented. Some can hardly communicate in English.

"They should be trained to have some knowledge of the country and speak a certain level of English as they are among the front-liners in the industry."

He said there should also be a dress code for tourist bus drivers who should be licensed by the Tourism Ministry.

While tourists were enthralled by our rich culture, food and destinations, Leong said many were showing a keener interest in heritage tours.

"We need to develop our heritage sites because tourists have been saying we do not have enough of such tours."

Deputy Tourism Minister Datuk Donald Lim said there was room for improvement in many areas, especially in matters of cleanliness and unscrupulous taxi drivers.

"We are addressing the problems but because the enforcement involves other agencies as well, our hands are tied."

It was for this reason, said Lim, that the government had set up a committee comprising representatives from the Immigration Department, Housing Ministry, Customs, police, Malaysia Airlines, travel agents and hoteliers to ensure that tourists had a pleasant and hassle-free holiday.

"Some of these complaints may be isolated incidents but we will look into every complaint.

"We are doing our best to improve the situation and I must say there have been some positive changes."

Source : NST
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