‘Bus only’ rule for interstate travel borders on absurdity

COMMENT | Are you confused about the requirements for interstate travel announced by Senior Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob on Tuesday? You should be because they make little sense for holidaymakers. The process appears to be a chore more than preparations for a leisurely outing.

The regulation that interstate travel is only allowed through registered travel agencies under the Tourism, Arts and Culture Ministry (Motac) is a damper to promoting domestic tourism.

To add more woes to the tourism industry, he said travel agencies must use tour vehicles registered with the ministry such as tour buses. Tourism activities using privately-owned vehicles are still prohibited.

In all our domestic travel, we have never used a travel agent to book bus tickets. The last we checked, there is no such requirement for KTM either. Are MAS and Air Asia registered with Motac as travel agencies? This means travelling by air or rail is a no-no. So, let’s for argument’s sake concede and ask: What do we do if we want to spend a weekend in Port Dickson?

We checked with two travel agents in the Klang Valley and both said that they do not arrange for bus tickets for the Petaling Jaya-Port Dickson route.

They suggested that I go to the terminal in Bandar Tasik Selatan on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur and buy bus tickets from bus operators licenced by Motac.

Now, I have to jump into a Grab or take a taxi which will cost me RM40 both ways. Why don’t you make bookings online, you may ask? While it can be done for longer distances and other holiday destinations, there are none to Port Dickson.

Even if there are, we would have to pay for travel to the pick-up destination.

But the travel agents did offer to make hotel bookings for us but we usually stay at the Port Dickson Yacht Club or the Port Dickson Golf Club which we can arrange directly as we find them convenient.

It will be rather odd for people staying in border towns like Tanjung Malim, Gemas, or Tampin. Does someone staying in Tampin, Negri Sembilan have to take a Motac-registered bus to Melaka? What is the process for someone staying in Tanjung Malim who wants to travel to Kuala Kubu Baru for a round of golf?

Similarly, why can’t we choose to take the Electric Train Service (ETS) from Kuala Lumpur to Ipoh? Or for that matter, fly to Penang? Answers must be forthcoming for this ‘bus only’ ruling.

The Malaysian Association of Tour and Travel Agents (Matta) Malacca chapter chairperson Goh Hock Gin said that although the move is seen as only benefitting travel agents, the consolation is that efforts are being made to help revive the tourism sector in stages.

“It is a good start and could control tourists’ movement and help in tracing them if there was an outbreak of the Covid-19 infection among the tourists, he added.

But Malacca Tourism Association president Madelina WL Kuah disagrees. She pointed out the real problem – the requirements imposed on tourists are burdensome and costly as they would have to use the services of travel agents, adding that movement was also quite restrictive compared to being allowed to use their own vehicles.

The failure to allow the use of one’s own transport is an impediment to revitalising the tourism industry which is in the doldrums. While this arrangement has worked well during festive periods when masses travel on their balik kampung, it is hardly the answer when it comes to the weekends or short trips.

Isn’t it ridiculous for someone staying in Sungai Besar, Selangor who wants to go across the river to Teluk Intan being compelled to buy a ticket from a travel agent (if there are any selling such tickets)?

Wouldn’t he or she be disgusted if there are only stage buses and no Motac-registered buses plying the route?

This may sound trivial but when the government expects us to go by the book, then it should have looked into all aspects of such arrangements before making the announcement.

While right-thinking Malaysians accept the ‘soft landing’ approach taken by the government on the return to normalcy, the consultation process with stakeholders and their input is required when coming to such decisions.

The “this you drink, this you eat” policy and the days of “government knows best” are over.

Pushing requirements down our throats without proper consultation has to stop. Did anyone even consider all the issues and related problems?

Didn’t thought go into the ‘bus only’ ruling or was it done to placate and pacify travel agents, bus owners, and operators?

Views expressed here are the writer’s own