Tour operators clueless in creating new packages, activities

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Time tour operators make ordinary tours interesting, exciting and rewarding so that tourists will talk about.

After opening the ‘Tower Walk 100’ and the 25th-anniversary celebration of Kuala Lumpur Tower on Tuesday, Tourism, Arts and Culture Minister Datuk Seri Nancy Shukri again called on industry players to create new tourism products to attract more visitors.

While the minister was spot on, the call is unlikely to yield much tangible results. This is because such calls have been repeated over the past decades, just ask any of the long-serving or retired officials in the Malaysia Tourism Promotion Board or Tourism Malaysia for short.

While the ministry has formulated the National Tourism Policy 2020-2030 and continuously engaged with other government agencies, it could only facilitate the tourism industry but not provide services to customers, which could only be delivered by industry players.

Depending on viability, large tourist attractions or accommodations could be opened or closed. Such huge investments are decided by informed decisions through internal feasibility studies that include operational challenges and changing trends.

But doing business is both an art and science. While guided by facts and figures, the outcome could also be determined by emotions and mindsets, starting with the attitude of the employees. The art is to subtly amplify the good feelings of customers so that they have a great experience.

As for the role of tour operators, most of the services they provide for foreign tourists are transfers to and from the airports, hotels, convention centres, resorts, and other cities. But such transport could also be provided by public buses, taxis or e-hailing services.

It is in sightseeing tours where tour operators have the forte. But then again, if it is limited to stopping at various attractions and shops around the city, a good taxi or e-hailing driver could also do the job much to the satisfaction of most visitors.

As it is, the quality of a sightseeing tour is very much dependent on the competency of the tourist guide, usually a freelancer. But if tour operators are more creative, they could design the tour differently from the rest by introducing novel activities and useful information.

After all, the itinerary is decided by the tour operator, not the tourist guide who has to follow the route and give instructions, as it is the tour operator that must take full responsibility for the entire service, including the tour bus even if chartered.

Tour operators should realise their role goes beyond linking up the services of all suppliers into a package, such as chartering tour vehicles for transport, hiring freelancers to provide guiding service, booking hotels for accommodation, restaurants for meals, and so on.

These are limited to assembling, much like placing all the food ingredients together to make a dish. It is time tour operators become a master chef and turn bland ingredients into gourmet dishes by making ordinary tours interesting, exciting and rewarding so that tourists will talk about.

But they are largely clueless and will remain so if they continue to operate in silo. Even if they were to discuss among themselves, they will be dismissive of new ideas. This is the natural result after enjoying resounding success during the heydays before the Covid-19 outbreak.

Just like government agencies have long been using labs to brainstorm, present and discuss ideas, theories, techniques, and methods, tour operators must also get together in workshops to work on ideas that may seem crazy previously but may well work under the new normal.

What is lacking or holding back tour operators is courage, not ideas. Many are too shy to put forward new proposals or afraid to experiment. It is time they open their minds, listen and learn what they can from each other and give lesser importance to top-down lectures.

Finally, our weakness is not marketing and promotions, as our country and products are well known but offering more of the same is like water over a duck’s back. Digital marketing may reach a wider audience, but results would be similar.

We may have plenty to offer but many need to be repackaged or new elements added to spice things up. For example, people everywhere are naturally proud of their own culture, and they would be more interested if we could connect their culture to ours in any presentation.

The views expressed here are strictly those of The True Net reader YS Chan from Petaling Jaya.