So ungrateful for their tourism support
Published on: Sunday, January 12, 2020
By: Datuk John Lo
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The news of the four Chinese lady tourists having been detained for 18 days over some immigration issues is very disturbing. The Chinese Consulate in KK has issued a public letter demanding an explanation for reasons why these four Chinese lady tourists have been given the seemingly harsh treatment of detention in comparison to tourists from other countries. 

I hope top officials’ responsible departments or ministries will treat this letter with due attention/importance and provide a logical and sensible response promptly. 

Brushing it aside can be a costly mistake for Sabah as the Chinese Consulate has stated, Chinese tourists comprise 40pc of Sabah’s foreign arrivals. Basing on this figure, Chinese tourists are spending about RM2billion which is almost 50pc of Sabah’s budget. 

This is no small money in view of the grave uncertain global and domestic economic conditions. 

An unsatisfactory answer may draw out Chinese irks, resulting in a boycott and severe reduction of arrivals from China.

KK and Semporna will be the first to get hit. KK’s present vibrancy may disappear, hotel occupation rate/occupancy may plummet, spiral reduction of direct/ indirect unemployment. 

Semporna’s experience of tourism downturn after the kidnap of a Chinese lady tourist not long ago should be a licence.

Lest we kid ourselves, we need Chinese tourists to keep our economy going. While we crave for Chinese tourist $$$, do we know how to earn these $$$. This immigration issue has shown we don’t. And judging from the official public statements, we don’t look for solutions in the right places. Hereunder are some perspectives. 

Confusing immigration system.

Senior officials should appreciate that Malaysia is a basket of confusion for visitors, having 3 immigration authorities and zones for a small country. For a tourist wishing to visit W Malaysia, Sabah and Sarawak, he has to clear immigration three times. No other countries do this. 

Making it worse, no official attempts are being made to inform tourists of this complication. All countries require visitors to clear immigration at point of entry only once, thereafter, they will have freedom of movement. 26 countries in the Schengen Area of Europe require only one immigration clearance. Malaysian officials may not know it – our words of welcome for tourists do not match of what is happening on the ground.

KKIA is confusing.

I have seen many tourists touching down in KKIA are lost, especially when there are no personnel to give them direction to immigration. Now there is cos of what has happened to the four Chinese lady tourists. Will this last long? 

Very often, there is no direction for passengers arriving late at night. Already tired and needing to sleep, getting lost, looking for immigration, long queue is not a good experience to start your holiday. Having to experience inordinately long delays for luggage can only add to their irritation. 

Headaches for tourists rushing for transit to Tawau.

Quite a few times, I have given direction to tourists who were completely lost when rushing for immigration clearance direction. They were on transit flights to Tawau. 

Most of them are bound for Semporna. Expecting to be able to clear immigration at Tawau and to avoid missing their flights, some have decided to board their connecting flights.

No immigration clearance procedure announcement before landing.

With the confusing immigration requirements in Malaysia, there should be pre-landing announcement in the planes. 

Lack of linguistic skills.

In the past, there were two young ladies standing next to a “ask me” banting banner. I don’t see them anymore. A few times, I have asked if they speak Chinese. Except for one time, all of them don’t speak Chinese. Even then, her Chinese was poor. 

They have very rudimentary English only. For Chinese tourists wanting information/assistance from them, it is like chicken talking to the duck. It is obvious that officials in charge do not worry about being tourist friendly. There were put there, not bothered if they are being useful or not to tourists.

Poor signages.

There are insufficient thoughts given to design and placement of signage/notices. To tourists, the coats of arm of Malaysia and Sabah don’t mean anything. Officials should not expect them to be able to recognise them. Official notices and commercial bantings are simply lumped together like those at the entrance of departure hall before security. Please seek professional help on design and placement of signages/notices.

While on subject of looking after tourists in KKIA, let me touch on the following:

KKIA is tired, needs a spruce-up badly.

The federal finance minister has already said no new airport for Sabah, no hope for a new KKIA. It is rapidly reaching full capacity and real soon, over capacity. 

We want to earn more tourist $$$ but the facilities are old, tired and need updating very badly, insufficient chair for the growing number of passengers at the waiting area inside the terminals, many passengers can be seen sitting or lying on the floors, nothing to look after/entertain children.

Again, I would say that officials should fight for funds for a major renovation.

Poor maintenance, cleanliness is still below par.

KKIA’s famous toilet problem has returned soon after the surprise visit by the minister of tourism. Often it is wet and smelly. 

There is also a huge black cobweb in the ceiling above McDonald. Garbage bins are overflowing sometimes.

Above are some of the problems that need officials’ urgent attention to details. If we are serious in wanting more tourists to come to Sabah, if we want higher end tourists, then we must buck up, a lot more thoughts on our system/approach/attitude are required. 

Our present method, if we do not improve quickly, will boomerang on us very soon. We must convert KKIA to more than just an airport for arrivals and departures. We need KKIA to be a welcoming, an exciting place for passengers, we need friendly multi-lingual officials.

Seek assistance from Chinese Consulate in KK.

The four Chinese lady tourists have had a “hellish traumatic” experience, being locked up for 18 days. It is unlikely that they wanted to ignore immigration requirements deliberately. 

They have become victims to confusion and system failure at KKIA. With this horrifying experience, it is most likely they would return or would recommend their friends to come. 

Much more problems for us is the publicity of this case in the social media in China. The Chinese are the world’s most savvy internet users. 

Officials should not think the problem of these four Chinese lady tourists will just go away. We need to solve this and prevent any further recurrence. 

The best way is to improve the system and seek assistance from the Chinese Consulate in KK on how to cater for Chinese tourists in KKIA. I am certain the officials of the consulate will be willing to help.

Experience more important than products.

Officials from top down to the lowest level need to appreciate that for us to succeed in deriving full economic benefits from tourism, we must focus on selling good experience. 

To do this, our whole system must be revamped to focus on providing a unique user-friendly system staffed by efficient personnel with the right attitude. We need to work hard, much harder to achieve this target. 

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