Barely two months since the launch of Tour Buddy, the digital sharing economy initiative introduced by the Malaysian Inbound Tourism Association (MITA) in collaboration with government agency Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation has come under fire from the Malaysian Association of Tour and Travel Agents (MATTA), which has decried the programme’s legality and urged its members nationwide not to engage the service.
However, MITA claims Tour Buddy services fall well within the law and that MATTA has misunderstood the initiative and assumed it was competing with licensed tourist guides.
In a press statement, MATTA president, KL Tan, opined that the new service was in violation of Clause 19 of the Tourism Industry Act 1992, which states: “(1) No licensed tourism enterprise shall employ, or obtain for a tourist or any other person the services of, a tourist guide who is not licensed under this Act or whose licence has been suspended or revoked.”
“Tour buddies are illegal tourist guides and would be in hot soup if caught by officers from the Ministry of Tourism and Culture when enforcing Section 21.1 of the Tourism Industry Act, which states that ‘No person shall act, or hold himself out, as a tourist guide unless he is licensed under this part’,” he added.
If tour buddies were to organise tour packages and offer them online, he said, this would be in violation of the regulations set under the Tour Operating Business and Travel Agency Business that permit only licensed tour and travel agents to do so. Tourist guides are licensed only to execute tours assigned by tour operators, he argued.
On the other hand, MITA secretary-general, Adam Kamal, said the programme simply involved training participants on how to use the Tour Buddy mobile app to seek information on local places of interest including its history, best food and shopping places in the area.
He stressed: “Tour buddies are not tourist guides. They don’t do guiding. They are not meant to replace the role of tourist guides.”
Rather, the initiative can complement existing tour services, being a community-based tourism programme that encourages local communities –especially rural ones – to support the tourism ecosystem, according to Adam.
For example, individuals can promote their fruit farms or their village’s best-kept secret attractions, which can in turn benefit the tourism industry.
“Some of the tour buddies love to show their skills to tourists such as cooking, boat skills, video-taking, cycling and dance. MITA believes the Tour Buddy training will enhance the tourist experience and give more reasons for them to stay longer in Malaysia.”
He assured that MITA will not allow tour buddies to provide services if they were in violation of the law.