Bangkok post> Jobs > Career guide

Foreign tour guides under fire

Associations of local tour guide operators nationwide have gathered to oppose the government's plan to allow foreign tour guides to offer services in the country, saying the policy will result in huge unemployment.

A total of 22 associations and clubs of tour guide operators met Sunday and resolved to oppose the policy initiated by Deputy Prime Minister Tanasak Patimapragorn, who oversees tourism affairs.

He wants to allow foreign tour guides to work in the country as a contingent measure to solve a shortfall of local tour guides.

He says the number of local guides is insufficient to cope with the growing numbers of inbound tourists, particularly tourists who do not speak English.

Jarupol Ruangket, president of the newly-established Association of Confederation of Thailand Tourist Guides (ACTG), said Gen Tanasak's policy has not worked in Thailand's favour.

He disagreed with the government's claim the country is short of tour guides.

According to him, the government's data is supplied by travel agencies which want to bring in foreign tourists to support their businesses.

"Travel agencies continue to say there aren't enough Thai tour guides, or that Thai tour guides are lacking in quality as an excuse to bring in foreign tour guides but it is untrue," Mr Jarupol said.

He urged the Ministry of Tourism and Sports to study the actual number of tourism operators to find out what the real situation is.

He called on the ministry to instruct travel agencies to issue reports to the Division of Tourism Business and Guide Registration, declaring the true number of tourists brought in by each company, without exception.

This would help determine if foreign tour guides are really needed to boost tourism as the government claims.

Allowing foreign tourist guides to compete in the industry would cause huge unemployment among Thai tour guides, he said.

He also slammed a government measure initiated late last year which allows foreign tour guides to work in Thailand as advisers to local guides in areas of shortage.

Those foreign guides are required to work with local guides by providing assistance but are not allowed to play the role of tour guide.

Mr Jarupol said foreign tour guides who have been allowed to work with local guides to help train them are not performing that job. In fact, they are working as tour guides themselves.

"In their country of origin, several of these foreign guides could have been unemployed, or even criminals," he claimed.

"They have come here to work as guides, creating legal problems for the country."

Tour guiding is a protected career for Thais based on the Foreign Business Act of 1999 but the federation asked why travel agencies have brought so many foreign guides to work in the country.

The federation is asking the government to strictly enforce the law against those "foreign tourists" as the livelihoods of Thai tour guides are being threatened.

"These savages have come in to work as tour guides, and are collaborating with travel agencies, later sharing the profit," he said.

All representatives of tour guide associations who attended Sunday's conference backed Mr Jarupol's request.

Tourism and Sports Minister Kobkarn Wattanavrangkul said earlier that more than 70,000 Thai nationals have registered as tourist guides but only 14,000 of them are actually relying on this career.

According to her ministry, Thailand needs an additional 7,758 tour guides using Chinese, 4,014 using Malayu, 1,176 using Russian, 1,148 using Korean, and 845 using Hindi.

As of last year, there were 76,329 tour guides registered with the Department of Tourism.

A representative of a travel agency which caters for inbound Chinese tourists in Thailand insisted local tour guides are in short supply to serve Chinese tourists, who are increasing in number.

He said almost 10 million Chinese tourists are expected to visit Thailand this year but tourism operators are short of local guides, not only in terms of quantity but also capability.

"Several tourism operators who serve inbound Chinese tourists have agreed to take on risk by illegally hiring foreign tour guides to serve their business. Why do they put themselves at such risk if local guides are able to serve their demand," said the operator, who asked not to be named.

The tourism and sports ministry projected that more than 9 million Chinese tourist will come to Thailand this year, up from 8.7 million tourists last year.

Each is likely to spend 50,000 baht for a trip which can generate about 500 billion baht for the country.

Mr Jarupol argued local tour guides are sufficient to serve foreign tourist but the problem is tour guides have to pay large sums to travel agencies if they want to offer services for foreign tourists.

Chonticha Sae-tong, a tour guide specialising in Mandarin Chinese, said Thai tour guides are capable of handling foreign tourists.

She added many foreign tour guides are often involved in unethical practices.

Ethnically Chinese, Ms Chonticha was born in the highlands of Thailand.

Referring to foreign tour guides illegally working in the country, she said: "They do not deserve to be referred to as guides in our country, because they do not care about educating tourists about Thai culture," she said. "They often tell tourists that they are from the highlands even though they are not."

Ms Chonticha added that authorities treat Thai tour guides differently, compared to their foreign counterparts.

"Even though we now have different cards to certify our status, many of us are still unemployed and suffering," she said.

"If a day comes that the government shows mercy upon us, we will stay quiet; if not, we will stand up for ourselves."