Thursday, April 9

Tour guides boxed in by restrictive zoning

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KOTA KINABALU: A new zoning policy implemented by the Federal Tourism Ministry has caused dire impact on the livelihood of blue badge or seasoned tourist guides in Sabah.

According to Sabah Tourist Guides Association (STGA) honorary disciplinary officer Lillian Agama, tourist guides issued with the Blue Badge were previously free to guide anywhere in Malaysia, but are now limited to picking up tourists to and from the airports and hotels as well as conducting city tours.

They are no longer allowed to take the guests out of the city and this has caused the 300 odd blue badge guides to consider surrendering their badges in protest at the new policy which they deem to be highly restrictive and impractical in Sabah.

In the past, licensed tourist guides, after completing their course, were issued with a yellow badge for a two-year probationary period, after which they will be required to undergo a confirmation examination to qualify for the blue badge.

A tourist guide with a blue badge could conduct tours all over the state even in Peninsular Malaysia then.

However, a few years ago, the Tourism Ministry introduced the green badge which is meant to legalise mountain guides or those who take tourists on nature tours.

This was accepted with a pinch of salt as some of these people were indeed well versed with the nature and areas they guided in.

However, of late, a new policy pertaining to zoning according to the colour of the badges was implemented and this has caused much confusion among the tourist guides in Sabah.

It has also caused much inconvenience as there have been instances of action being taken against blue badge guides because they were transferring their guests to Kinabalu Park.

Lillian said the issue is all about the badge and zoning policies that were formulated in the peninsula without prior consideration of the situation in Sabah.

“It may work well there but in Sabah it does not,” she said after a dialogue between about 100 tour guides and Tourism Malaysia officers over the issue here yesterday.

For example, she said one of the complications due to the new ruling is that only blue badge guides could pick up guests from the airports and send them to the hotels, but blue badge guides could not take the guests out from the city.

Green badge guides are allowed to take the guests to a place of interest, say Kinabalu Park highlands but not beyond that due to the zoning restrictions, thus another tour guide is needed to bring the tourists beyond that point as a replacement.

“Such ruling requires a change of guide, maybe three or four times and this is not good for our source of income and it also affects the guide-guest relationship,” Lillian said.

“We are pushed into a corner. What we want is just one colour badge and if we can’t get that we might just hand in our licences altogether,” she said.

Their grouses have not fallen on deaf ears as state Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Masidi Manjun is backing the STGA on their request.

“They have approached me for assistance and we have asked the Federal Tourism Director of Sabah to sort it out with her bosses in Kuala Lumpur. In fact the issue has been outstanding for some time and the Tourism Ministry, being the licensing authority, is aware of it.

“I understand their problem and fully support their request. The problem arose because the licensing authority insists on its ‘one-fits-all’ policy. It does not work in Sabah and it is my sincere hope that the federal Ministry of Tourism will review its policy on this particular issue in Sabah,” he said.