KOTA KINABALU: Illegal tour operators in the state are like a time bomb waiting to explode and destroy Sabah’s tourism industry, said Sabah Backpacker Operators Association (SBAO) president Richie Lee.
According to Lee, Ministry of Tourism and Culture Malaysia (MOTAC) has increased enforcement over the past six to 12 months and has conducted more operations to curb the issue compared to two years ago.
“However, it is not enough. It is not powerful and not influential enough. They should bring it to another level and come up with an effective and long term solution,” said Lee.
He said repetitive incidents where illegal tour operators have cheated tourists and involved in accidents while ferrying tourists, uninsured, around the state is rampant.
The president urged MOTAC, who has the jurisdiction to take action against them, to take serious and stringent measures to protect the industry and tourists.
Lee added that MOTAC should go further by creating awareness for tourists and the public regarding the real problems brought up by illegal tour operators.
Apart from that, the ministry should also be proactive by conducting operations at known hotspots throughout Sabah such as in Kota Kinabalu, Sandakan and Kota Belud.
He also cited Kota Kinabalu International Airport as one of the hotspots where illegal operators would poach on tourists offering to transport them to their established accommodations while selling their cheap “tour packages” on the way there.
Tourists would generally take up the bargain offers, unknowingly make the payment beforehand and come up empty-handed, he said.
“Last year’s aviation disaster has affected Sabah’s tourism industry and we do not want to see tourists trickling into Sabah to be poached.
“They are like a time bomb. Accidents and cheating will happen more rampantly. Already we have a handful of illegal operates and they are mushrooming every day. Now you know tourism in Sabah is a bit quiet but still got business but as the business improves, I guarantee you will see more of them around.
He also said imposing a nominal RM500 fine would send the wrong message to the people and motivating more to operate illegally at minimum cost and skipping the hassle of establishing a costly registered business.
Instead he said MOTAC should find and impose maximum punishment by charging them in court and putting them in jail.
“They are real, here and ruining the entire Sabah Tourism business. If the thing explodes the efforts of state Tourism, Culture and Environment Ministry will just go to waste again.
“Should we just sit down and wait for it to happen or should we be more proactive in dealing with these issues? Illegal tour operators are the poison of the industry and MOTAC is the doctor with the medicine,” said Lee.