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Dawn of a new tourism golden era
Published on: Sunday, August 27, 2017

By Datuk John Lo
MANY in the tourism business may recall that there was a serious shortage of trained and skilled personnel in the tourism industry especially in hotels more than 20 years ago.

Poaching and pinching of staff was common, with salaries spiralling at an unsustainable level.

At the same time, persistent recruitments for experienced staff by W Malaysian and Singapore companies heightened this shortage. Had this trend not been arrested, the tourism industry would have priced itself out of the market and the growth of Sabah’s tourism would have been stunted.

It is in this onerous context that Datuk Seri Panglima Wong Khen Thau took the courageous initiative to form ATI College in 1997 to meet this personnel vacuum in Sabah. It is the first such college in Sabah and still is today.

Wong also formed a Board of Governors to assist him in the running of the fledging college, to provide guidance, quality control and checks and balances. The initial members of the Board of Governors were from pertinent government and private sectors with diverse experiences.

The founding chairperson of this Board was the “never-give-up” Datuk Chin Kui Bee whose experience as a senior government official in the Ministry of Finance and later, promoted to Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Tourism contributed a lot of energy and practical guidance during the critical formative stage and initial growth of ATI College.

Under her chairmanship, the college made rapid progress. She later retired as Chairman but stayed on in the board till today. Her place was taken over by Datuk Gabriel William who was the former Director of Human Resource Bureau of Sabah. He has stayed on in the chair till today.

Gabriel, a truly devoted man to his passion, has contributed tremendously in the uplifting of Sabah’s human resource, especially in tourism. I had the distinct pleasure and honour, as Chairman of SIHA [Sabah International Hotels Association] of working with him in the training of more than 1,000 young Sabahans within 12 months during the early challenging days of this industry. Datuk Michael Steel is from the private sector.

His commercial experience has been a great asset. Four of us and latest member Datuk Rosalind Chew, another retired Director of Sabah Human Resource Bureau who came on board more than 10 years ago, have seen the difficult early days and the progress that have been achieved in the years leading to 2017.

It has been a truly amazing journey of 20 years, the pleasure of seeing so many young Sabahans graduating and contributing in the vibrant tourism industry!

It was hard work at the beginning. Keen competition for students from W Malaysian colleges and their branches in Sabah was intense. In addition, UMS has also started tourism courses. ATI College courses were quite limited at the beginning. Sabahan youngsters were not keen as they are today or ignorant of the prospects in tourism.

The greatest hurdle that ATI College has been able to overcome was parents’ misconception of the tourism industry. Many were against their children, especially daughters working in the hotel industry.

All these are now in the past. Students of all races and religions, rural as well as urban are studying in ATI College. After 20 years, ATI College has matured from a small college into an institution of higher learning.

Thanks to the extraordinary resolve and devotion of the early academic staff, ATI College has been able to provide quality education soon after its formation.

Against all odds, Wong has kept ATI College to its original course of dedication to tourism education and training.

After 20 years, it is still the only college in Sabah that specialises in this industry.

This devotion has produced its rewards. Over the years, ATI College has built up a solid reputation for quality tourism education, has expanded its scope of courses including degree courses in partnership with a number of local and foreign universities. The local and foreign student number has increased impressively and above all, the quality of graduates has risen sharply.

The ready acceptance of ATI graduates by the tourism stakeholders in Sabah, W Malaysia and Singapore can testify to this. Over the last 20 years, ATI College has trained thousands of students who have been able to earn a decent living in and out of the tourism industry. Some have gone on to senior management positions, some have succeeded in setting up their own business in Sabah and W Malaysia. These days, the ATI College graduates are in demand and can look into the future with confidence.

In addition to the steady and continuous progress of ATI College in its software, it has grown from a few classrooms in a shophouse on Gaya Street to its own 7 storey building in front of the KK police station.

ATI College’s determination to quality tourism education for young Sabahans has been recognised by successive state governments, Ministers of Tourism and Chief Ministers over the years. The current Chief Minister, Datuk Musa has been ATI College’s strongest VIP supporter even before he became the Chief Minister.

Being persistently concern for the future of young Sabahans and the development of Sabah’s tourism, Musa has made it a point to attend all the ATI College annual convocations since becoming CM in 2003 except for 2 years when he was away from the State. His convocation speech is always the high light of the ATI College convocation ceremony, eagerly listened to by parents and graduates.

ATI College’s contribution to the development of Sabah tourism industry is immeasurable.

ATI graduates are in all segments of the tourism industry, from hotels to tour agencies, from tour guides to administrators. ATI College has been and will continue to work towards the realisation of Musa’s tourism vision, especially in human resource.

ATI College is destined to play a significant role in Sabah’s tourism industry for the simple reason that Musa is gearing up for the expansion and advancement of this industry in a big way. As one of the pillars of his Halatuju vision, Musa has consistently allocated big budget for tourism promotion and development.

Most importantly, he has managed to get very substantial Federal funding from PM Najib for the development of two major game-changer tourism projects – the Sabah International Convention Centre [RM250m] and Tanjong Aru Eco Project [RM500m]. These two Musa anchor projects and other private sector ones already in the pipe lines will alter this industry’s profile, the likes of which Sabahans have not seen before.

The success in all these tourism investment is highly dependent on solid, well trained personnel from Sabah.

Musa understands this better more than anyone else. Hence Musa’s attendance at ATI College convocation each year is his expression of support and concern for the training and development of young Sabahans for tourism.

To support the new tourism era, ATI College will embark on introducing a number of MICE [Meeting, Incentives, Convention, Exhibition] related courses.

Students graduating in the 20th Anniversary year 2017 and subsequent 10 years are lucky because the RM600m Sabah Convention Centre will be completed soon and work will start on the multi-billion Ringgit Tanjong Aru Eco Project.

These two economic landmark project initiatives of Musa, with many major international hotel chains coming, more Chinese tourists arriving, more airlines looking to landing at KKIA will generate a great deal of employment.

The next stage of the “golden era” of Musa tourism vision will begin to dawn on Sabah, expected to be from 2018 onwards for SICC will begin recruitment for its opening soon.

The imminent and substantial personnel demands to meet Musa’s tourism vision is the best guarantee of a good future for ATI College and its graduates. ATI College, in celebrating its 20th anniversary in August 2017, can look forward with confidence to an another challenging and exciting 20 years.

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