Tuesday, June 25

Decision will hurt Sabah tourism – tour guides


PENAMPANG: Local tour guides in Sabah are maintaining their objection against the Tourism Ministry’s decision to allow Korean tour guides to be given licenses and the right to operate in the State.

A group of some 30 Sabah Tour Guide Association (STGA) members who were outraged by the move said yesterday that they would not compromise on the issue and were prepared to do whatever it takes them to protect their livelihood.

Calling for press conference at the Sabah Democratic Action Party (DAP) office in Bundusan, they claimed hundreds of local tour guides currently serving as sit-in guides for Korean tourists were at risk of losing their job.

“And this is just the beginning. The worst part is the possible negative impact it has on the whole tourism industry in Sabah. So, there is a lot at stake here, not just the livelihood of the tour guides but the interest of the State and its people in general,” said the group spokesperson who wish to remain anonymous.

He said allowing foreign tour guides to handle tourists from their own country may put the State’s tourism attractions, especially the wildlife at risk.

He pointed there had been several incidents in the past where tourist leaders or translators from Korea have been found allowing groups they were accompanying to feed wild animals and taken precious plants away from our forests.

“It is common sense that you should not feed wild animals, especially food that can make them sick. It’s not that they don’t know this, but they simply do not have the same sense of respect and appreciation, they do not value our wildlife as much as we do.

“For us the flora and fauna, which is the reason why many tourists come to Sabah, is a treasure that we want to protect but for them, it is just about making money and keeping their clients happy. So, they will not be as strict when it comes to preventing their clients from damaging our environment.

“In fact, there was an incident where a Korean translator beat a monitor lizard with a chair at Sapi Island after some tourists in his group got scared with the animal that was foraging for food near their camping site,” he said.

By aligning themselves with the opposition to gain political platform for protesting against the decision, the group has defied STGA president Daniel Daughty’s recent warning that the association would not condone any member turning the matter into a political issue.

According to the group, the existing system where registered local tour guides accompany Korean groups in their tour with the help of a Korean translator was working well, as shown by the continuously increasing number of Korean tourists into Sabah.

Moreover, they said, if the Koreans wanted their guides to be fluent in Korean language, all that was needed to be done was to train the local tour guides to speak the language.

The group added, bringing in their own tour guides would not make any sense for the foreign visitors because they would not have the same intimate knowledge of the places, animals, plants and cultures of Sabah like the local guides do, even if they were trained in local tour packages.

“We simply do not see any acceptable justification for the so-called urgent measure to cater for the increasing number of Korean visitors. If the issue is to have local tour guides to speak Korean, then set up an institution for teaching them the language.

“The current situation is already bad enough as it is. The Koreans are doing business just among them and the benefit or profit share for the locals is minimal.

“Korean tourists are coming in using their own tour agents whose employees are mostly if not all Koreans, using their own tour buses, eating at their own restaurants, go to Korean shops… They are operating here, using our natural resources for their tourists but giving back as little as they can.

“The only thing left is the tour guide operations, and even that we only serve as sit-in guides. The one who really guide their tourists is the so-called translator. And now even that they want to take from us.

“We have nothing against the Koreans, they are just doing business and taking advantage of the opportunity given to them, but the government need to be fair to us as well and not give everything to the foreigners and nothing for us,” said another member, who also refused to be named.

Meanwhile, Sabah DAP Youth chief, Junz Wong said the party will facilitate the affected tour guides in whatever way they can to reverse the new policy, which has yet to be officially implemented pending discussion between the Tourism, Environment and Culture Ministry with all stakeholders, including STGA.

It was learned that the Ministry has a plan to discuss the issue with officers from the Tourism Ministry  this coming Tuesday.

“We hope Datuk Masidi Manjun will come up with some acceptable solutions and not give in to the short-sighted decision of his federal counterpart.

“We are looking forward to the outcome of the meeting, which we sincerely hope it will be fair to the tour guides and the people of Sabah,” he said.