Will tourists be ripped off by touts at our airports?

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Touts are emboldened wherever the authorities are apathetic, and they operate with impunity by colluding with corrupt enforcement officers.

In preparation for the reopening of the country’s borders from April 1, the Road Transport Department (RTD) had increased monitoring and enforcement on unlicensed and illegal car rental services at Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) and klia2.

Speaking at a press conference, RTD director-general Zailani Hashim disclosed that smartly dressed touts, locally termed as “ulat jaket”, would target arriving Arab tourists and offer them vehicle rental and tour package at exorbitant prices.

He said if touts were to quote reasonable transport charges at first, they will demand much higher payment upon arrival at the destination. From March 8 to 15, JPJ impounded 11 private vehicles including several units of Toyota Vellfire, and 14 drivers were arrested.

Apprehended touts can be prosecuted under Section 205 (1) of the Land Public Transport Act 2010, which provides for a fine not exceeding RM50,000 or imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years or both, if convicted. Even so, the hardcore would not be deterred.

Sadly, KLIA has been afflicted by touting ever since it was opened 24 years ago in 1998 and little has changed. Those who regularly visited the airport would have noticed that touts were usually the same group of people, with different gangs operating over different periods.

As far back as in 2006, I witnessed one tout wearing a jacket and name tag operating with impunity inside the arrival hall, which was then clearly visible to the public. Ironically, at the same time, the police were putting up posters inside the arrival hall warning of touts.

For the touts, it was just another day in the office as they coolly approach one target after another. Over the years, those who were concerned on the menace believed that these touts must be working in cohorts with some airport security personnel.

Later, KLIA management removed the counters outside the arrival hall operated by hotels, travel, transport and car rental firms. Many touts masqueraded as staff from these counters and pretended the travellers they are approaching are customers who have prebooked their services.

Touts have no qualms charging inflated prices and will not waste precious time driving those they have just fleeced. They made use of a pool of pirate taxis and whenever these are in short supply, they approach licensed taxi drivers dropping off passengers at the departure level.

Taxi drivers were paid no more than normal fares but run the risk of being caught in an enforcement operation while the touts got away scot-free. Taxi drivers could throw caution to the wind, especially when they have bills to settle or Ah Longs breathing down their necks.

In 2019, I flew back to Kuala Lumpur after conducting training at Kota Kinabalu. Exiting from the arrival hall at klia2, I was accosted by touts offering taxi service, but I kept walking towards the arrival gate where passengers board cars to leave the airport.

While waiting for my e-hailing car to arrive, I noticed the space just outside Gate 2 was swarmed with taxi touts and they were busy making exchanges with each other or on the lookout for their next target when not harassing travellers.

It was an ugly sight, but the authorities seem unperturbed. The touts appeared confident like they were operating in their own backyard. I noticed there were many CCTV cameras pointing at where touts and passengers were waiting, but they were either dummies or those monitoring them chose to turn a blind eye.

If I am monitoring these cameras and given the permission, I would have shown the image of these touts on large display screens to warn them that they are being monitored, even if no enforcement officer bother to act.

Last September, touts were operating as usual at the Langkawi International Airport (LIA) after the island was chosen as the pilot destination to be reopened to fully vaccinated local tourists beginning Sept 16. Last October, I also found touts loitering at klia2.

Touts are emboldened wherever the authorities are apathetic, and they operate with impunity by colluding with corrupt enforcement officers. But if open transgressions at major gateways are not curbed, it would be unconvincing to claim that safety and security is in place nationwide.

Where issues are addressed lackadaisically, problems will remain and resurface whenever the authorities let their guard down. Enforcement agencies lack the resolve to stem out the menace for good if they are not credited or held accountable for activities under their watch.

Recently, KLIA and LIA have been named among the world’s best airports in their respective categories for 2021 in a global Airport Service Quality survey by Airports Council International after achieving perfect scores. Syabas!

To continue enjoying such accolades, Malaysia Airports Holdings Berhad, which manages all civilian airports in the country except for Senai International Airport, should ensure touting is eradicated. If not, rankings will drop if surveys were to cover victims or witnesses of touting.

The views expressed here are strictly those of The TrueNet reader YS Chan from Kuala Lumpur.