KOTA KINABALU, July 17 — Chinese and Korean tour agencies have cancelled future tours to Sabah following a protest staged by local tourist guides at the Kota Kinabalu International Airport (KKIA) past midnight on Saturday.
According to The Borneo Post online, Ministry of Tourism and Culture Malaysia (MOTAC) Sabah State Office director Ag Ahmad Zaki Abu Bakar said that the protest by the Sabah Tourist Guides Association (STGA) and Sabah Native Registered Tourist Guide Association (PBBNS) was “uncalled for” and tarnished the image of Sabah’s tourism industry.
“We have received many complaints of their actions from many tour companies, local and international, especially China and Korea. These companies have also cancelled their future tours to Sabah because of this incident,” said Zaki.
He also said the associations caused a ruckus over a baseless claim that illegal tour guides from China were involved in the operation and their actions was done at the expense of “terrified” tourists and also STGA’s own licensed tourist guides.
“MOTAC condemns such action and attitude, especially from the least expected STGA and PBBNS for organising an assembly at the airport, taking into consideration that they are the frontliners of the tourism industry,” he said.
“In response to this matter, an investigation was made with the alleged (local) tour company immediately today. We found that the company had conducted their business legally according to the Tourism Industry Act 1992. At that point of time, they had a licensed tourist guide and tour buses waiting at the airport to receive the tourists upon arrival.
“The allegation of STGA and PBBNS, accusing the tour company of not complying with the law is totally unfounded. It was also reported that their threats had caused the tour company’s appointed licensed guide to flee the airport before the arrival of his guests for fear of his life,” added Zaki.
Zaki said that his ministry will not hesitate to revoke the licences of all parties involved should the police investigations deem the assembly illegal.
The protest left a group of Chinese tourists stranded for two hours at the airport upon their arrival just after midnight last Saturday.
“Such behaviour from the respective tourist guides association is unacceptable to our industry. The respective presidents should set a good example in leading their guides as there are many ways to solve any business complaints through proper channels. All conflicts should be solved in a civilized manner through dialogue and our office is always ready and open to welcome anyone who requires support and assistance,” he said.
The case is currently being investigated by the police.
“To our future tourists, please be assured that this is an isolated case. We wish to apologize to the group (affected) for the inconvenience caused by the irresponsible tourist guides’ behaviour. We will surely take stern action. No one is above the law and taking matters into their own hands is a serious offence,” said Zaki.
Separately, Sabah Association of Tour and Travel Agents (SATTA) president Datuk Seri Winston Liaw urged the government to take stern action against illegal foreign tour guides who operate in Sabah.
Liaw said that the practice was hurting the livelihoods of some 600 Mandarin-speaking local licensed tour guides.
“This issue cannot be allowed to fester, otherwise our Sabahans will be jobless in the future,” he said.
He said the government must look after the welfare of local guides, and stop and penalise local agents who worked with illegal tour guides from China.