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New mindset required to end tour guides problem

20 July 2015, Thailand

Maybe a regional approach would be best to overcome scams and conflicts plaguing the tourist sector

Trouble is slowly brewing in the tourism industry as licensed guides take to the streets in Pattaya to protest against unlicensed foreigners allegedly taking away their jobs.

Over 100 Thai guides who work in Pattaya staged an angry protest in front of Pattaya police station this past week to call on authorities to do more to crack down against illegal foreign tour guides who work in the seaside resort town.

Some harsh words were ditched out at a Chinese man who the protesters believed was an illegal tour guide. The man was leading a group of Chinese visitors and accidentally came across the noisy protesters.

To get around this problem, there have been suggestions that foreign tour guides be permitted to work legally as "Tour Coordinators", alongside Thai tour guides.

The occupation of tour guides in Thailand is protected by law, which basically says one has to be a licensed Thai national to do the job. Many interpret this to mean that Thailand does not allow foreign guides to work in the country, not even accompanying a group of foreign visitors. In other words, foreign visitors travelling in groups and in need of a guide must hire Thai nationals to show them around.

The longstanding argument is that foreign guides might not know about Thailand, especially areas of cultural sensitivity, compared to local tour guides.

But this often comes across as a convenient excuse, according to people in the tourism industry, because Thai tour guides are notorious for skimming or getting a percentage of whatever visitors spend at certain outlets - much more than cultural issues.

So it's safe to assume that the uproar in Pattaya is probably more about personal and selfish reasons rather than protecting Thailand's cultural heritage.

While Thai tour guides like to cling to nationalism and cultural preservation amid a need to protect such jobs for locals, their track record suggests that getting kickbacks from local business outlets like hotels, guesthouses, restaurants, jewellery shops, etc, is really a key priority for them.

In other words, this is an issue of business ethics that the industry will have to address head on if the tourism industry is move forward to better quality and service.

Moreover, let's not fool ourselves into thinking that commissions or a percentage going to tour guides from business outlets come from a shop owners' pocket. At the end of the day, this is money that visitors could have saved but didn't because of our culture of under- the-table deals.

Perhaps we should rethink the whole thing and look at it from a regional point of view - making it an Asean initiative, might require tour operators and guides to 'think globally and act regionally'.

In other words, liberalise the industry at the regional level so that guides from Asean member countries can all function as one entity. Border crossing would be less significant as strategy and destination would not be confined to any particular nation but pockets in Southeast Asia instead. This would be in line with the Asean Economic Community that many of us like to hype about but say little about what this means in real terms.

Taking this route would require Thai tour operators to broaden their scope, and enhance their capacity.

It would also require Thai guides to have a better understanding of our neighbouring countries, languages and ways of doing businesses. Ever wondered why so many Burmese, Cambodian and Vietnamese working in Thailand speak excellent Thai?

Generally speaking, people who can afford to pay more will do so if the service is worth the money. But, universally, what people don't like is being ripped off. If the government is serious about obtaining a better understanding about this phenomenon, perhaps they should take a survey of foreign and local visitors at places like Phuket and ask about their cab or tuk-tuk fare.

The short-sighted nature of our industry encourages the people in tourism businesses to suck as much as we can from these visitors because we don't know what tomorrow will hold.

But it doesn't have to be that way if all of us work hard to end scams and put the con artists out of businesses and focus on a long- term strategy that's sustainable and gives a sense of fair play to all sides.

Source: The Nation(Image:

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