Tourists take a longboat ride along Lemanak River, Engkilili. — Photo by Louis Jap

MIRI (March 30): The newly-registered Society for Promotion of Tourism Safety Sarawak (Spots) has called on the local industry to change in order to remain competitive when borders finally reopen on Friday.

Chairman Louis Jap opined things cannot remain the same not only because of Covid-19, but also to ensure there is professionalism among local tour agents.

“The first year, we were not aware how it was going to affect us. But the second year, in 2021, as the pandemic prolonged, it had hit every nerve of the tourism industry. Businesses were suffering from the drop of inbound tourists, which was reported to be more than 90 per cent.

“The struggle was real for every player of the industry, they had to make ends meet in order to soldier on, surviving through the hard times. At the same time, it definitely gave us a downtime to reflect on travelling with safety, not just about Covid-19 virus, but the safety awareness by tour agencies and tour guides and also how we can be creative,” he told The Borneo Post.

He suggested the industry use employ Hazard Identification, Risk Assessment and Risk Control (HIRARC).

Louis Jap

“In Sarawak, safety on travel isn’t often discussed until things take a turn for the worse. If you notice, news on safety is often bad news. The intention of Spots emphasising this, firstly, is to improve safety at tourist destinations and secondly to gain confidence and trust from tourists toward tour guides and the agencies they hired to look after them on travel,” he explained.

He stressed that when nature is part of the tourism product, safety is even more paramount because when things gone wrong, the consequences can be devastating.

“I have seen a lot of casualties in my 42 years of career, where someone is lost in the rainforest for more than 20 hours, even tour guides, injury and deaths. Hence, what must be done for safety guideline should not just merely be drafted words, but to be put into action and implementation to protect both tourists and tour guides,” said the 62-year-old tourist trainer.

He said HIRARC can be applied with the basic rules of PDCA (Plan, Do, Check, Act).

According to him, a pre-tour safety briefing is crucial, whether tourists like it or not.

He said this is because guiding huge groups can be challenging and the focus on safety would show the professionalism of tour guides and agencies.

As Covid-19 is still around, Jap said tour agencies must also prepare for the possibilities of cases.

For local tourism to bounce back, he opined tour agencies need to creatively offer different types of tours and travel styles.

This includes promoting dark tourism – travel to places historically linked to death or tragedy such as Batu Lintang prisoner of war camp, health wellness tourism, education tourism – visiting tertiary institutions particularly during convocation season, and active tourism.

Jap also suggested promoting forest bathing tourism or Shinrin-Yoku, which originated in Japan in the early 1980s.

“Forest bathing is proven to reduce stress hormone production, improve feelings of happiness, and free up creativity, as well as improving health. With everything that has to be fast mode nowadays, it would be a chance for travellers to recuperate in nature,” he said.

Jap said Spots will work to raise awareness of safety in travel through social media, webinars, talk shows, training, and seminars.

The society would also work to get affiliated with internationally recognised associations.

Spots was officially registered in Feb 28 this year, with 80 per cent of members from the tourism sector in all divisions, while others are from the human resource and occupational safety and health sectors.



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