Developing skilled personnel and niche tourism areas

A tourism management class at UiTM.

IN Malaysia tourism is big business.

Tourism, Arts and Culture (MoTAC) Minister Datuk Mohamaddin Ketapi, in a Press conference earlier this year, stated that the tourism sector contributed RM84.1 billion to the national economy last year, up by 2.4 per cent compared to RM82.2 billion the previous year.

The country registered 25.8 million tourist arrivals, placing it among the major tourism destinations of the world.

With 2020 announced as Visit Malaysia Year, the tourism industry has again taken centre stage as a national mission and a major catalyst to ensure Malaysia remains competitive. Visit Malaysia 2020 is targeted to bring in 30 million international tourists and RM100 billion in tourist receipts to the country.

Professor Marcus Lee Stephenson, dean of the School of Hospitality at Sunway University, said tourism in Malaysia is geographically, ecologically, culturally and socially diverse.

“The tourism industry in Malaysia reflects the manifold nature of the destination. The country is appealing as it is composed of more than 1,000 islands and has a variety of marine parks, and varied landscapes — both natural and built environments.

“The destination has an incredible mix of ultra-modern places to visit and traditional places too. Therefore, culture and heritage tourism products alongside the sun, sand and sea tourism products bode well for an advancing tourism industry as an all-appealing destination,” he added.

For tourism to flourish, investments in the construction of hotels and tourism resorts and in the expansion of the events industry have also seen growth. So too educational programmes in hospitality, events and tourism management, mirroring the expansion of the tourism industry.

Professor Dr Sallehuddin Zahari, dean of the Faculty of Hotel and Tourism Management at Universiti Teknologi MARA (UiTM) Puncak Alam, noted that the positive development of the tourism industry in the country not only generates employment opportunities but also promisingly and continuously expands tourism study programmes at higher education institutions.

However, there are gaps between tertiary education institutions’ output and industry needs that have yet to be bridged.


To service the tourism industry not only for next year but also in the years to come, there is a need to develop adequate skilled and professional manpower that will ensure that tourism in Malaysia stays ahead.

Various universities in the country offer tourism-related programmes.

Taylor’s University, for example, offers various levels of programmes in tourism — from diploma and bachelor’s to master’s and doctoral level. Postgraduate programmes are offered through research mode and the rest are taught courses. These programmes are centred on the core field of leisure management such as tourism, travel, recreation and events management.

The university’s Faculty of Social Sciences and Leisure Management executive dean Professor Dr A. R. Neethiahnanthan said Taylor’s flagship hospitality management programmes offer interesting complementary studies in hotel and restaurant management, convention management and integrated resort management.

“We receive healthy enrolments year on year especially from both international and local markets. The present enrolment is approximately 500 students annually and the school’s international students hail from 59 countries, turning our classroom into an international hub with excellent diversity for learning,” he added.

“The recent achievement of Taylor’s University rising to 14th place in the QS World University Rankings by Subject for Hospitality and Leisure Management has also created strong positioning and demand in the market,” he continued, adding that partnerships with over 500 top hospitality and tourism partners worldwide provide great opportunity for students to get the best possible learning experience on and off campus.

The School of Hospitality at Sunway University offers six programmes relating to three core areas: events and convention management, hotel and hospitality management, and culinary arts and management.

“As the industry evolves, the programmes place concerted emphasis on innovation, technical skills development and enhancement, and deep awareness of emerging trends from a global viewpoint, aligned with the changing and complex needs of the industry,” said Stephenson.

Sunway University students are able to experience world-class facilities which include a mock hotel suite and reception area, beverage laboratory, event studio, and cuisine, pastry and demo kitchens.

“The school has a partnership with Sunway Resort Hotel and Spa for internship opportunities and research collaborations. It has also established a close partnership with Le Cordon Bleu International, which certifies the school’s programmes and we organise regional and domestic field trips, as well as other relevant industry activities,” he said.

At Berjaya University College (BUC), its Faculty of Hospitality and Tourism takes the experiential learning approach.

BUC chief executive and vice-chancellor Emeritus Professor Walter Wong said the Berjaya Immersion Methodology ensures that exposure to real-world industry practices and professionals is prioritised as a key learning method.

“From sessions with internationally renowned guest lecturers to participating in events and tourism-related organisations, our students are awarded the privilege to learn hands-on in exclusive environments for optimum personal development in their craft.

“We send students overseas to join competitions where they learn by doing, transform the way they think and gain the confidence to display their skills in public. This experience helps them to stand out from the crowd and be competitive in a proactive way.”

The tourism management programme at UiTM’s Faculty of Hotel and Tourism Management emphasises specialised areas through its individual courses or subjects such as customer service, tour planning and design, tour guiding skills, air fares and ticketing, health and wellness tourism, heritage tourism, Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Exhibitions, and park and leisure management.

“In addition, some new elements such as community-based tourism, rural tourism and eco-tourism are embedded in the tourism planning course. All niche tourism areas are always given attention.”


While the manpower needs for the hospitality segment have been adequately addressed, the Malaysian Association of Tour and Travel Agents (MATTA) feels the tour and travel management aspect is lacking as the skills needed and requirements are a bit different.

“Currently all universities and colleges provide courses with up to 80 per cent content on hospitality and the balance of 20 per cent touching on general travel. None provides the actual job skill requirement and need for the travel industry. Therefore, for the travel industry itself, it is a major challenge in getting staff,” lamented MATTA president Datuk Tan Kok Liang.

MATTA has more than 3,600 members, representing over 70 per cent of total tour and travel agents licensed by MoTAC.

Over 80 per cent of MATTA members are inbound travel agents promoting domestic tour and tourism products attracting tourist arrivals to the country besides the outbound, ticketing and Bumiputera segment.

MATTA has been actively engaging its members to be proactive and creative by designing flexible and tailor-made holidays packages responding to changing travel trends and consumer demand.

Niche tourism segments that are gaining popularity include family travel, wedding and honeymoon, bird-watching, jungle and mountain trekking, food (including fruits), sports and cruise tourism.

“The tourism industry has created employment opportunities for some 3.2 million people, making up 22.7 per cent of the total employment in the nation. It is robust and the demand for administrative and operation workers such as in sales and marketing/reservation and operations is increasing in addition to the demand for skilled workers such as drivers and tour guides with foreign language skill,” said Tan.

“None of the higher education institutions has a specific course that caters to the travel industry. That is why graduates who enter the travel industry have to start from zero. That is also the reason why they are not keen to join the travel industry — they have to start from the bottom,” he explained.

Tan said education is critical to encourage individuals to choose the travel industry as a career.

“Education institutions must work hand in hand with tourism industry stakeholders such as MATTA to provide skilled manpower to serve the tourism industry sector and its development.

“They should concentrate on key travel industry job scopes such as marketing to promote Malaysia as a destination. Emphasise language and communication covering writing and speaking skills including multiple spoken languages, and knowledge on computer/central reservation systems such as Amadeus, Galileo and Sabre.”


For the tourism industry to progress further, higher education institutions are cognisant of the need for further collaboration with the industry to provide the manpower as well as knowledge and know-how required to grow specific niche areas in tourism.

UiTM’s Department of Tourism Management is taking initiatives to create new partnerships and strengthen existing ones with tourism industry players.

It is collaborating with organisations such as the Pacific Asia Travel Association, Malaysia Chapter, MoTAC, Asia Pacific Institute for Event Management, and Malaysia Convention and Exhibition Bureau.

“We strongly believe that a strong relationship between the industry and institutions should always be fostered to ensure educators are maximising the benefits for both students and industry in the educational process. Failure to develop such a commonality of approach may lead to meaningless effort even though the country has wonderful tourism products,” said Salehuddin.

BUC, meanwhile, has been appointed as Cluster Leader for Events Management by the Malaysian Centre for Tourism and Hospitality Education, a national initiative formed under the government’s Economic Transformation Programme to improve the quality and quantity of tourism and hospitality professions in the country.

“Berjaya UC is committed to develop and deliver high quality tourism and events management education to serve the needs of the industry, thus improving the nation’s status as an international tourism destination,” said Wong.

BUC’s Faculty of Hospitality and Tourism has also established the Asia Pacific Centre for Events Management with the aim of providing events management research and programmes to advance the events industry in Asia Pacific.

By Rozana Sani.

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