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Tuesday August 27, 2013 MYT 8:10:00 AM
Tuesday August 27, 2013 MYT 8:18:28 AM
There is a problem with unlicensed tour guides in Sri Lanka. – Photo from The Island
Sri Lanka must quickly resolve its tour guide issues, as the country’s tourism industry grows.
VETERAN tour guide lecturer Joe Livera, who is also the incumbent president of the Sri Lanka Institute of National Tour Guide Lecturers (SLINGL), discusses the many facets of the tour guide industry and issues faced by tour guide lecturers.
Some of the issues are not only detrimental to the guide lecturers alone, but the industry at large. They have to be resolved as soon as possible as the country is heading for a new era in tourism with more demands.
There has been an increased number of unlicensed tour guides operating in the country. This trend, according to general prevailing notion within the industry, doesn’t augur well for tourism. How do the authorities find this situation and what action has been taken to arrest it?
The issue of unlicensed and unauthorised guides including the so-called "beach boys" had been there for a long period. The current fears of increasing trend seemed to be owing to the people realising that the numbers have grown to such a level that its further growth would definitely harm the industry to a great extent. The statistical records indicate that there are 400-500 persons who come under this category. But surely there are more and the number is on the increase.
There are instances of unlicensed and unauthorised guides cheating, duping and taking advantage of tourists. They are notorious for indiscipline and improper conduct. Many tourists have complained of this situation. The authorities must do their own share in saving the industry by making it mandatory for tour guides to have a valid licence and that no person without it be allowed to operate as tour guides.
How would you describe the role of police in this situation?
(The) Police have no powers. Only an assistant director of the Tourism Development Authority has authority to make an arrest. The police could only escort such or higher-ranking officers. This is a loophole in the net of law. We think it's high time the laws be amended to give more powers to police so that they would act.
What about the foreign tour operators who don’t possess a licence but accompany tour groups?
According to regulations, no foreign tour operator is allowed to travel with a tour group without a local guide lecturer. Yet these regulations are overlooked by some travel agents. They do so for various reasons. We think that this has to be stopped.
There are many complaints against foreign tour operators. The age-old laws have given no power to law enforcement officers to arrest them. This again shows the need for amending the laws relevant to the industry.
What is your assessment of the Tourist Police? Do you think they do a proper job? Are they prepared to meet the demands of a burgeoning tourism industry?
The Tourist Police lack the required numbers and trained personnel to provide the services which are expected from them. There had been some gory incidents of tourists being harassed in the recent past. There were worse incidents.
But the Tourist Police is unable to give assurance that there would be no repetition of such unfortunate incidents. Touts continue to exploit tourists under the very eyes of police. Not that all officials are bad but the general perception about the Tourist Police in the industry is very low.
There had been narratives from victims that on many occasions, those who committed a crime or acted against tourists had been armed to their teeth and some even carried sophisticated guns. But the policemen standing nearby had not even a hand gun.
Political involvements have forced the police to not act during many occasions. Tourists do not come to see the antics of local politicians, but in some instances they have been compelled to do so as we do not have a strong Tourist Police.
The government, which has promised in many policy manifestos to make the country a top tourist destination in the world, should think about it.
The so called "Beach Boys" are also a part of our society. How could they be turned (into) more useful citizens?
We have conducted regular programmes, seminars and workshops to educate them. Some have to be rehabilitated. Those programmes have been quite successful. For example, most of these Beach Boys could speak several languages. For them to be successful, all they need is proper guidance.
There are complaints from national tour guide lecturers that certain travel agents are depriving them of their due commissions. There are complaints of guide lecturers being ill-treated. Are they true?
Yes, we have observed that some travel agents engaged in this practice. Some are well-organised. Some of them pay the commissions to companies but not to the guide lecturers.
There is a monopoly and it is on the increase. The travel agents designate the shops where the tourists should be taken and even the tourists have no choice and are forced (to) buy what they want from shops designated by the travel agents and the commission is sent to them, depriving the guides of their legitimate commissions.
Some hotels don’t provide rooms to guide lecturers like in the past and they are forced to seek accommodation elsewhere or guest houses designated by them.
There had been occasions where some hotels housed guide lecturers in places lesser in comfort and facilities than the accommodation facilities provided to the tourists. It is wrong. According to the guidelines and regulations laid down by the Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority (SLTDA), a guide lecturer accompanying a group of seven should be provided accommodation in the same hotel. The regulation has been made in view of the fact that most of the tourists feel at home and secure with a guide lecturer being around.
We have taken up these issues with the SLTDA. Its chairman Bhaswara Gunaratne has pledged to address the issues. – The Island, Sri Lanka/Asia News Network
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Travel, Lifestyle, Travel, Lifestyle, tour guides, Sri Lanka, Sri Lanka Institute of National Tour Guide Lecturers
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