Words by Laura Lee
BMC Travel Sdn Bhd has been instrumental in promoting Melaka and George Town – two cities that will mark 10 years as UNESCO World Heritage Sites in July – as choice destinations for tourists.
This destination travel company, incorporated in 1979, making it the oldest travel agency in Malaysia, differentiates itself from others by setting high standards for itself to earn the trust and confidence of its clients.
The company that started with only six staff now has a team of 52, led by a strong senior management. Owner and managing director Billy M.C. Leong, says his company specialises in incentive and business travel and has survived through thick and thin, thanks to the employees.
“I’m blessed to have this committed team,” he says. In an industry with a typically high employee turnover, more than 30% of his employees have stayed for more than a decade. Leong adds that 85% of his clients are also repeat clientele.
He credits his company’s success to its brand image, product attributes and shared values. “We ensure personalised and cherished experiences as well as service commitment. Partnership with integrity is also paramount to us,” he adds.
Leong claims BMC is the first travel agency to offer cost breakdown for its clients in the name of transparency.
Such ethics are imparted to the staff from the first day of operations, thanks to corporate coach Michael Heah, an ex-boss and mentor who helped conceive the company’s values. Leong also counts former tourism minister Tan Sri Dr Ng Yen Yen as a mentor. He recalls how his team had a great time working with her in Australia to revive Malaysia’s tourism industry that had been hit hard by the SARS scare in 2003.
Strong value system
Leong, a staunch Buddhist, hold strongly to the company’s values. He refuses to take any commission from his customers’ spending at restaurants, tourist commission shopping stops, or nightlife activities. It’s not in our culture and if any employee is caught doing it, he is dismissed immediately,” he says.
He personally coaches new employees and organises two training sessions for the staff every year. “This year, we did a Han cultures study @ The Malaysian Han Studies Melaka. It’s the teachings of Confucius that emphasizes justice, honesty, honour, integrity, righteousness, politeness, decorum and a sense of propriety,” he adds.
“This is the kind of corporate culture that differentiates BMC Travel from the rest.”
BMC Travel inbound segment focuses on corporate travel, supported by incentive groups from China, India, Indonesia and the Philippines. It offers thematic excursions, such as the gastronomy tour. It facilitated Hong Kong food critic Choi Lan’s group tour to Malaysia.
Leong says the challenge, besides ensuring operational efficiency and high service standards, is managing customers’ expectations. This is especially so in niche areas such as the tour to Penang for 1,100 members of the Millionaire Club Indonesia that BMC Travel managed recently.
The largest group ever handled by BMC Travel comprised 3,800 visitors from an insurance company in China. “We had a kenduri and even added a mock wedding ceremony and a wayang kulit performance at Tok Senik Village in Langkawi,” Leong says.
In Penang, BMC Travel has also organised various unique thematic events – from beach dinner parties featuring the island’s famous hawker fare to dragon boat race for team building exercises. Leong recalls fondly the Rose Wedding tour where couples participated in a mass wedding ceremony and dined on the beach in their wedding gowns.
He has brought celebrities such as Hong Kong renowned actress Petrina Fung Bobo to speak at corporate events in Penang and to record a video to promote life values at his four-star boutique hotel in Melaka.
Caring & Sharing
Corporate social responsibility features strongly in the company’s culture, a reflection of its values that emphasize compassion, passion, a commitment for what they do, caring and sharing with the community and eliciting trust and engagement with them.
Among its earlier CSR projects was a Penang Bridge cycling event to raise funds for underprivileged children. The company also invited Chinese national Huang Jie, a teacher who lost an arm and her feet in the Sichuan earthquake of 2008 to share her story of how she inspired others to live a life with dignity in spite of their mishap.
He has regarded blind pianist Colin Ng and renowned autistic savant artist Yeak Ping Lean as teachers of lifelong learning. They were invited to share stories at BMC Travel’s corporate events to motivate participants to stay strong in life. Yeak Ping Lean’s paintings are featured in the gallery of the Settlement Hotel, Melaka, which recently bagged the Best Hotel in Malaysia for Hotel Services (4-star city) category at the Malaysia Tourism Awards 2018.
“Whenever Ping Lean comes back to Malaysia, we get him to share his inspiring story of how he saw his two sisters through university through sales of his paintings,” Leong says.
Innovative Outbound Tours
On a typical day, BMC Travel handles an average of 1,000 outbound travellers to various parts of the world. Recently, it had a group of 1,800 people going to Budapest. It also organises study tours for small delegations to foreign universities and it works with TV stations as part of its activities.
Apart from ticketing, BMC Travel also handles events, frequent independent travellers, niche tourism and special interest groups including Muslim clients.
For Leong, getting into the tourism business has been a meaningful self-fulfilling journey.