THE issue of foreigners illegally operating tour services persists at major tourist provinces such as Chon Buri and Phuket, and is believed to stem from expansion of the tourism industry.
Though up to 70 per cent of these guides are reportedly Chinese, more and more Vietnamese and Russians are jumping on the bandwagon, even though this job is among 39 occupations reserved by law for Thais.
In Chon Buri, the United Thai Guides group petitioned Pattaya’s police and mayor to enforce laws more strictly, including the Tourism and Guide Registration Act and the Immigration Act, to drive illegal foreign guides away.
Paisal Seuthanuwong, a leading member of the group, called last week for authorities to help boost Thai guides’ foreign language proficiency.
Illegal guides were no longer just Chinese but now also Vietnamese and Russian, he said.
The problem would disappear if Thai officials seriously tackled it. Some Chinese guides had formed business networks to share benefits with foreign-owned tourism establishments that exploit Thai attractions and resources, he said.
In Phuket, Thai guides asked the Tourism and Guide Registration Office (TGRO) to investigate some tour companies and guides that allegedly let tourists damage natural resources, affecting the country’s image.
Thai guides, many of whom cannot compete with native speakers in terms of language fluency, are unhappy and a subsequent issue has been that many illegal foreign guides reportedly lack insight into Thai culture and traditions hence passed on wrong information to visitors.
State agencies led by the Tourism Ministry have issued regulations that require tour companies to submit tour guides’ job order documents to the Central TGRO and its branches.
Ministerial officials and Tourist Police also set up booths to check on the guides’ job order documents at major airports – Suvarnabhumi, Don Mueang, Phuket, Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Hat Yai and U-Tapao.
Tour companies are also required to provide a legal Thai guide to accompany tour groups throughout their stay. They are meant to give the TGRO the company’s list of tour guides and have any migrant employees report to the Employment Department.
For the mid-term, a committee will be established to control quality and test foreign language skills of tour guides, while tour companies will be asked to welcome a state official as an observer on visitors’ trips.
Long-term measures include producing good-quality guides and updating laws.
Police Major Piyapong Ensan, an inspector with Pattaya Tourist Police, insisted that they were arresting illegal foreign guides and checking on guides’ job order documents.
However, arresting illegal foreign guides required clear evidence of wrongdoing, he said.
“Since January, we’ve arrested seven illegal guides, mostly Chinese,” he said.
Sinchai Wattanasatsatorn, president of the Pattaya Business and Tourism Association, said companies that bring tourists to Thailand may be exploiting a loophole that allowed the emergence of illegal foreign guides – to ensure that guides under their control do the job they want and to reap extra benefits for their business network.
Since tour guide work was a job reserved for Thais in this country, the limit on people with language fluence and the shortage of skilled manpower should be discussed and solved accordingly, he said.
Thai police continue to arrest illegal guides, with two Chinese men nabbed last Tuesday in Bangkok for working as tour guides without a permit while they led a 20-member group sightseeing near Phra Pin Klao Bridge.
Six more Chinese men were arrested on the same charge last Thursday in Dusit district. They face punishment of up to a year in jail and a fine of up to Bt100,000.
At a police press conference last Tuesday, TGRO executive Athipong Saengsilpa said the Tourism Department received many complaints from legal guides and tourists about illegal foreign guides working in this reserved occupation, who allegedly damage the country’s image by giving wrong information to visitors and coercing visitors to buy additional services and goods at inflated prices.
Some illegal guides enter Thai-land as tourists and take tourists from an overseas tour company at a cheaper price than legal guides quote. Some were said to be more resourceful than Thai guides in tricking tourists to pay money for things, he said, so the department dispatches officials to check tourist attractions on a regular basis.