The Sabah tourism industry has come a long way in providing visitors with a safe, entertaining, and high-quality travel experience through tourist guiding.
Even when confronted with adversity, local tourist guides maintain their resilience and optimism by contributing innovative ideas to drive and revitalize the state’s tourism activity.
To remain relevant in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Sabah Tourism Board (STB) has worked with Sabah Tourist Guides Association (STGA) to reinvent travel tours and experiences aimed at both local markets and broader audiences via the Internet.
This effort also includes providing local tourist guides with STB-sponsored Online Guided Tour (OGT) courses, which started in October last year, that will allow them to become proficient in leading virtual tours.
While travel information is readily available online, STB chief executive officer Noredah Othman believed that tourist guiding is still necessary for giving travellers a better understanding of places, people, and culture.
“The tourism industry has been hit hard by the pandemic. However, even in the absence of tourists, we must continue to look ahead and innovate to keep tourism activity going, and this is impossible without the assistance of our professional tour guides.
“As there are still restrictions on travel, OGT is the best way to show the world what Sabah has to offer. Therefore, local guides are and have always been the perfect advocates for our tourism because they are remarkable storytellers with the ability to attract tourists to visit Sabah,” she said.
Noredah added collaboration in the ongoing virtual tour demonstrated the importance of their role in promoting Sabah by conveying stories about many topics like history, World War 2, traditional plants, wildlife, and even ancient stone monuments, among others.
Such supports include backing STGA in recent bidding to host the 2024 World Federation of Tourist Guide Associations Convention.
Although lost to Italy with a mere four votes, STGA nonetheless has managed to put Sabah on the world tourism map.
Sabah has about 1,200 licensed tourist guides, with 650 of them being STGA members.
STGA president Grace Leong said tourist guides are instrumental in promoting tourism, stressing their commentaries or narration of destinations are critical in providing information to tourists while on a guiding assignment.
“In Sabah, our tourism is based mainly on Eco-Tourism. Without a tourist guide, tourists will not understand or have minimal knowledge of the destinations visited, including plants, wildlife, and culture.
“Tourist guides are indeed indispensable in Sabah tourism package…In collaboration with STB, the association has conducted virtual walking tours and the ongoing OGTs on Facebook.
“This will aid in promoting Sabah as the destination of choice globally. The OGTs have drawn thousands of viewers since the programme started on Jan 21 this year.
Additionally, she added STGA is helping to connect tourist guides with various online platforms to enable them to earn an income through OGTs and supplement this with in-person guiding when tourism doors reopen.
“Yes, we are resilient. While many of our tour guides are now working full-time or part-time in other jobs, we are still waiting for our international border to reopen once the pandemic has passed,” said Grace.
In conjunction with the International Tourist Guide Day on Monday (Feb 21), STB and STGA are also collaborating with the Universiti Malaysia Sabah on an online webinar focusing on “Recovery and Growth of Tourism: The Role of Tourist Guides.”