Sri Lanka is a country which is deemed to have a great fame in terms of tourist attraction. The island is one of the most pleasing tourist destinations in the world. Tourism has become one of the main income generating sources in the island’s economy. Sri Lanka was recently elevated to the top spot in the list of best travel destinations issued by Lonely Planet and UNILAD Adventures, for the year 2019.
However, the tourism industry has encountered some serious issues because of unauthorised tour guides feeding false information to foreigners regarding places of tourist attraction.
- It is best to choose a tourist guide who has been professionally trained and authorised by Sri Lankan tourism authorities
- when the tour guides were trained in provincial council level, they do not demand qualifications
- We have also decided to issue one standard license of different colours to each province, so that foreigners could identify them quite easily
- Travel companies are set up by non nationals, especially Chinese
Who is a tour guide?
A tourist guide is a person who provides assistance, information on cultural, historical and contemporary heritage to people on organised tours. They also provide formation to individual clients on educational establishments, religious and historical sites, museums and about places of other significant interest and attractions.
They are duty bound to provide the visitor with in-depth information in the language used by them (visitors), smoothing creases and wrinkles that are bound to occur while touring a foreign country for the first time.
It is best to choose a tourist guide who has been professionally trained and authorised by Sri Lankan tourism authorities and categorised as National Tourist Guides or Chauffeur Tourist Guides. The National Tourist Guides cater to large groups of tourists traveling in luxury coaches driven by reserved drivers while Chauffeur Tourist Guides would be expected to guide small groups traveling in small vans and luxury cars.
Unauthorised tour guides
Speaking to the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka Institute of National Tourist Guide Lecturers Vice President Sarath Wijendra said there were individuals who were involved as tour guides without being registered as National Tourist Guides in the Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority (SLTDA).
“The majority of such tour guides are working under Chinese travel agencies in Sri Lanka. They have not obtained license from the SLTDA. Therefore, they lack proper knowledge about the places they visit and are not equipped with professional qualifications,” Wijendra said.
“This situation has become a threatening issue and created chaos among foreigners. There are occasions where foreigners get confused when they are supplied with contradictory information regarding the same place,” Wijendra added.
He said that according to the law, nobody can accompany the foreign or local clients in and around and make explanations regarding the sites unless he or she has obtained a license to do so.
“However, what is visible is that these types of tourist guides can be often seen engaging in tour guiding,” he said “What is pathetic here is that the image of Sri Lanka associated with our customs, culture and history reaches the world in different ways,” Wijendra warned.
Meanwhile, he said that they had informed the Minister of Tourism Development and the SLTDA regarding this trend.
Although the Minister is concerned and wants to make some changes regarding the issue, the SLTDA seems to be turning a blind eye to the issue.
Those who successfully faced the interview are subject to follow a six-month course conducted by the Ministry
Enter foreign tour guides!
Sri Lanka Institute of National Tourist Guide Lecturers General Secretary Sumedha Chandradasam said the proliferation of foreigners who were conducting tours without a valid work visa deprives the the Sri Lankans of employment.
“Travel companies are set up by non nationals especially Chinese who are collecting the money in the originating country and not paying the relevant taxes to the Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL).
He said that the foreign guides had zero knowledge of the sites in Sri Lanka, but still engaged in the industry as if they possessed professional qualifications.
“The use of unlicensed illegal personnel to conduct tours is destroying the tourism industry because of unprofessionalism, lack of knowledge and unethical behaviour,” Chandradasam complained.
He said that there was also a negative impact created from a cultural angle when tourists use the services of unqualified personnel.
Tour guides from provincial council level create issue: Minister
Tourism Development Minister John Amaratunga told the Daily Mirror that the Ministry used to call for applications for tour guides and they were expected to face an interview conducted by Ministry officials.
“Those who successfully faced the interview are subject to follow a six-month course conducted by the Ministry. It is then only that they are deployed as authorised tour guides possessing a valid certificate and license” the Minister said.
However, he stressed that when the tour guides were trained in provincial council level, they do not demand qualifications and merely carry out interviews.
“This scenario has been created by those who train tour guides without following a proper procedure. Hence, we have informed the Police to arrest such tour guides who have not been subject to a proper procedure,” the Minister added.
SLTDA keen on taking action
While saying that this situation has become a threat to the tourism industry, SLTDA Director General Upali Rathnayake told that they had taken following measures to address the issue.
Informed the relevant travel agencies clearly not to enroll those tour guides who have not obtained a guide license.
Informed the tourist police to note down the NIC number, name and the mobile number of those tour guides who accompany foreigners without the valid license in popular places like Sigiriya, Kandy and Pinnawala. ( The purpose here is to inform such tour guides to follow a standard course in order to obtain the valid license)
Informed the Sri Lanka Institute of Tourism & Hotel Management (SLITHM) to double the recruitments of tourist guides.
“There are four licenses issued under four categories: National, Chauffeur, Site and Area. National and Chauffeur tour guides are trained under the SLTDA while the authority to train site and area tour guides has been given to the provincial councils,” Rathnayake said.
“The main problem faced by us in relation to this issue is that substandard procedures are carried out by the provincial councils in training site and area tour guides,” complained Rathnayake.
He said that there was no uniformity in the training provided by provincial councils, adding that hey did not offer a proper course to trainees.
National and Chauffeur tour guides are trained under the SLTDA while the authority to train site and area tour guides has been given to the provincial councils
“In order to resolve this confusion, the SLTDA has decided that the SLITHM should monitor and inspect the applicants, the syllabus, qualifications of the trainers, examinations and issuance of examination results of the provincial councils,” he explained.
“We have also decided to issue one standard license resembling different colours to each province, so that foreigners could identify them quite easily. In addition, we have made it compulsory for tour guides to wear the license while they are engaged in duty,” he added.
He said that if the above guidelines were not followed, the Police had been instructed to take necessary actions. Meanwhile, he said it wasn’t good to palm the total blame on tourist guides because there were travel agencies who had not obtained due license to maintain such an agency, but still engaged in this business.
“We have published advertisements in all three languages informing about this situation and informed our enforcement unit to take further actions against such agencies that possess no valid license.
In conclusion, it is fitting to ask whether this situation has already ruined the image of Sri Lanka? However, it is good to be grateful to the Sri Lanka Institute of National Tourist Guide Lecturers for their enthusiasm in raising concerns to address this issue. Now, it is up to the authorities to see whether they monitor the procedure in a proper manner, so that the current trend does not continue to be a threat to the tourism industry of the country.