‘Smartphone tourism’ on the rise

Kota Kinabalu: Just a day’s spot check on tour operators around the city found no less than 14 so-called tour companies operating without an office.

Which, in turn, enables them to provide tours on the cheap, thus compromising on safety aspects of tourists, according to State Motac Director Director Ag Ahmad Zaki (pic).

“They are doing this as the cost of operation is lower, allowing them to sell cheaper tour packages online (using their smartphones and laptops).

“One of the reasons given by them was that there was no need for an office when they can run their business online. The response may be a bit unfair for those with a legit operation,” he said.

The Mengalum Island tragedy on Jan. 28, this year, which left four people dead and five others still missing, was blamed as a consequence of “cowboy operators” providing cheap local services to internet tour operators in the tourists’ home countries selling the packages cheap.

The would-be tourists snap up the packages thinking they are getting a bargain without realizing that cheap also means greatly compromised safety measures like jam-packed boats as in the Mengalum case where 31 people, including crew, were packed into a 12-capacity catamaran that already had safety issues of its own for a two hour journey in rough seas and back.

Daily Express understands that the operator involved in the Mengalum tragedy has since been expelled from the Malaysian Tour Travel Association list.

The Tourism Industry Act requires tour companies to have their own premises. Motac Sabah Office believes around one-sixth of over 7,000 tour operators across Sabah are already operating from the privacy of their homes.

The number is worsened by the presence of customised tour packages fixed by tourist guides and foreign guides like, for example in China, fixing group travels from homeland into the State.

While it is cheaper to do business without having to incur office overheads, it has been hard for the authorities to track them down in the event tragedies like Mengalum occur.

A tour guide who also owns a tour company noted there had also been numerous instances involving tour guides fixing tour packages for tourists, offering customised trips on request.

They pose a direct threat to tour companies which have an office and several claims suggest that guides are able to rake in as much as RM20,000 during the peak season.

The guides have the advantage as they are directly in contact with the tourists and are more flexible in offering excursion packages to them.

Business has been good to an extent that some of them are able to offer what only tour companies are allowed to do so such as bookings for shuttle buses, hotel stay and scuba diving activities and others.

Many of these services are also widely marketed and accessible online.

The amount of take home income from guiding work is also topped with percentage commissions offered by stores, restaurants and other commercial joints.

The practice is said to have also been giving tour companies a run for their money. – Jason Santos

Source: Daily Express