Tour bus operators in catch-22 situationPOSTED BY CBT Team ON 24 September 2014
Under the Tourism Industry Act, there must be a tourist guide in an excursion bus (Bas Persiaran) whenever they are passengers on board unless exemption had been granted for a specific tour group by the Ministry of Tourism and Culture.
The tour operator cannot circumvent this ruling by hiring a school bus as the penalty for not using an excursion vehicle is the same as not engaging a tourist guide.
The tour operator is liable to a fine not exceeding twenty thousand ringgit or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years or to both.
In one particular case, a reputable tour operator was fined RM18,000 after the excursion bus was found to be without a licensed tourist guide.
Tour operators are often in a dilemma whenever tourist guides do not show up on time at the point of departure.
This is particularly trying especially when leaving for the airport and waiting any longer would result in missing the flight for the entire group.
Excursion bus owners, wary of the heavy penalty, would give strict instructions to their drivers not to move the bus without a tourist guide.
As for the tour operator, missing a flight can cost a bomb, more so for long hauls when the first-night stay is forfeited by the hotel.
Such costs are too high to bear and as such, inbound tour operators would rather take the risk and proceed to the airport without a tourist guide.
Besides, it is not easy to deal with the wrath of the tour leader and the anxiety of a tour group, apart from possibly losing the contract with the overseas outbound tour operator.
For the betterment of our tourism industry, excursion bus owners and drivers should be given the assurance by the authorities that flexibility is allowed under extenuating circumstances.
When an excursion bus is caught to be without a tourist guide, it is necessary to establish whether the tour operator or bus owner chose not to engage a tourist guide and did not apply for exemption, or it was the fault of the tourist guide.
Those who are not licensed and masquerade as tourist guides are liable to a fine not exceeding seven thousand ringgit or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years or to both.
Likewise, penalty should be imposed on licensed tourist guides who had accepted the assignment but later opted for a more lucrative one at the last moment, leaving the tour operator and tour bus owner insufficient time to find a replacement.