It pays to be friendlier to visitors

MESRA Malaysia (Friendly Malaysia) is the name of a world-class training program by the Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture (Motac).

Its origin dates back to 1986, when the World Expo was held in Vancouver, Canada.

The organizers of the exhibition were determined to extend the highest level of hospitality to visitors from here and abroad.

Therefore, a program was created to train volunteers as hosts for visitors from around the world and tourists who may have different cultures and speak little or no English.

The training proved to be very effective and contributed to the immense success of Expo 86.

Later, American Express bought the training rights to the program and distributed it worldwide, naming it Malaysia Host in Malaysia, Australia Host in Australia, etc.

In Malaysia, American Express worked with the Ministry of Tourism to roll out Malaysia Host in the late 1990s.

Later, this one-day program was localized and renamed Mesra Malaysia.

Malaysia Host and Mesra Malaysia were both equally powerful for one main reason.

Certificates of attendance were only issued to candidates who passed both the practical and written tests.

Ratings for practice were based on their level of participation, such as willingness to ask or answer questions, provide feedback or share experiences, and make eye contact with the trainer.

The answers given to 10 objective test questions determined the remaining 50%. As such, the training was highly interactive, lively and fun.

The participants paid full attention to the trainer, especially on the points highlighted because they were likely to be among the questions of the objective test.

But for Visit Malaysia Year (VMY) 2007, Mesra Malaysia has been radically changed.

The one-day program was extended to two days and the practical and written tests were dropped.

However, 20,000 tourism frontliners were trained under Mesra Malaysia in JMV 2007.

While the highest quantity was achieved, the quality of training plunged.

Mesra Malaysia was replaced by We Are The Host (WATH) in 2013, which was developed in preparation for JMV 2014.

But the new one-day program had over 176 slides, too many to cover in one day.

As such, WATH was more like an information seminar than a training program. In 2019 it was replaced by the current Mesra Malaysia.

There are a total of 85 certified trainers nationwide for this program, which is mandatory for new tour guides to obtain their guide license.

But with the cancellation of JMV 2020, Mesra Malaysia’s free training by Motac for tourism staff had largely been frozen.

Hopefully enough budget will be allocated to run free training over the next few years as there is no better program than Mesra Malaysia.

Although compiled in 2019, it was updated in October 2020 and incorporated relevant information into the Tourism Satellite Account 2019.

Thus, the trainees were able to learn the most important facts and figures about inbound and domestic tourism before the onset of the pandemic.

In 2019, tourism was at its peak and achievements should be our focus for years to come until they are surpassed.

This will be easier if industry personnel understand the various terms and sectors that make up the entire tourism industry and the important roles frontliners play.

The rest of Mesra Malaysia’s content is timeless, as attendees get to know and understand the expectations of visitors and the roles of frontliners.

They will then learn and master the interpersonal communication skills essential to providing excellent customer service.

Instead of just listening and responding, participants are also required to speak as well.

Each participant is required to share their best or worst experience and explain why things went so well or, if they went wrong, how it could be handled better next time.

However, participants who are focused on the future can choose to state how they could improve customer service on a personal level immediately after the training, or specify the steps and timeline if they plan to improve the quality of customer service. at the organizational level.

Such sharing and declaration would allow all participants to learn a lot of practical and applicable things, instead of discussing academic theories with almost no application as is done in universities which produce graduates with little knowledge or industry-relevant skills.

In any case, all Malaysians should be friendlier to others, especially visitors and even more so to foreigners as they are more sensitive than locals and that can be a good thing or a bad thing.

Good because the little extra effort you put in gets noticed, and bad when it’s misunderstood.

Malaysians are friendly by nature but some can be rude without realizing it, especially those who are least exposed to other people’s standards.

Local education emphasizes the study of books and many learned by rote. Unfortunately, social etiquette and courtesy don’t have the importance they deserve.

Since the 1990s, I have provided training to many thousands of employees in the tourism and transport industry, including frontline responders such as tour guides and taxi drivers.

Some have been lucky enough to receive generous tips or earn huge shopping commissions.

While leading a training for Teksi 1Malaysia drivers in 2014, a female driver shared in class that she had received RM18,000 in commissions for simply bringing a foreign couple to a teak furniture store.

The couple had to happily buy a lot of teak furniture to ship home.

Last September in Langkawi, a driver told me that another driver had earned over RM30,000 in shopping commissions in just one month for taking passengers to a popular shop on the duty-free island.

This happened before the Covid-19 outbreak in January 2020.

There was also the case of a taxi driver in Kuala Lumpur, whose taxi service was hired by a stranger for a few days.

Everything must have gone exceptionally well and before flying off, the tourist offered to pay the driver the cost of a new taxi to replace the old one he was driving.

While it’s not necessary to kill others with kindness, it’s better to be friendlier, especially to visitors.

Pioneers of tourism should not view the foreign tourists they encounter as nothing more than passing ships in the night, never to be seen again.

They should adopt a strategy to bring back tourists.

They will come back for more if their experience is wonderful and unforgettable.

If they can’t move on this trip, they will on their next trip.

Let’s not forget that a nation’s greatest asset is its people and that includes tourism.

Frontliners must do everything possible to make foreign tourists feel at home in our country, like those who have adopted the Malaysia My Second Home program and contributed to our economy.

Besides being perceived as friendly, it is best to treat customers as real friends and it is not difficult for service providers to befriend customers.

It is imperative to do this in the tourism industry as we compete fiercely with our neighbors and want tourists to return repeatedly.

In Tourism Malaysia’s performance report for 2019 for each quarter, the percentages of foreign tourists citing “visiting friends and relatives” as their main reason for visiting Malaysia was 16.6% up to March, 25.5% until June, 19.2% until September and 9.8% until December. .

In fact, visiting friends and relatives in Malaysia has always been ranked only after holidays as the main purpose of foreign tourists coming to our country and many were returning.

But most Malaysians, including those in tourism, are not fully aware of this reason.

Therefore, all leading players in tourism and transport should be aware of the important roles they play and should actively befriend their customers, passengers or guests when given the chance to serve.

Let tourists know they have a friend in Malaysia and you can’t wait for him to come back.

And for frontliners who have served well as hosts, they could confidently invite foreign tourists back.

Tourists who have had a great vacation in Malaysia will share their experiences with colleagues, friends and relatives back home.

YS Chan is Asean Tourism Master Trainer for Travel Agencies, Master Trainer for Mesra Malaysia and Travel & Tours Enhancement Course. He is also a consultant and writer in the tourism and transport industry. Comments: [email protected]

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