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Tour guides in excess

And a majority of them lack professionalism which impacts service delivery

Tourism: An increase in tourist arrivals has not translated in gainful employment of tour guides despite their number doubling in the last five years.

There are today 2,418 guides in the country. Records with Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB) show that from 1,280 guides in 2010, it increased to 1,364 in 2011, 1,710 in 2012, and 2,049 in 2013. A majority of them are culture guides.

A minimum of Class XII pass certificate is required to qualify as a guide. A selection interview is also conducted. With other employment opportunities hard to come by, most unemployed youth find it easier to obtain guide licenses to keep themselves employed.

According to Guides Association of Bhutan (GAB), the country has an excess of guides today.

With competition, some guides were willing to work for less, which according to GAB impacts quality service delivery. Besides, issues such as lack of standardisation and professionalism among guides exist with most guides not up to the standards.

GAB chairman Garab Dorji said most guides weren’t competent which undermines the tourism policy of high value, low impact. He said there were many young guides today, some as young as 17 and 18 years, who admit to have joined the industry on their parents’ pressure.

Garab Dorji said with more than 300 guides completing guide course every year from the four training institutes in Bhutan, the association wonders where they would be absorbed?

“Everyone thinks guides make good money but with so many guides now, it’s an issue especially during the lean seasons,” he said. “With increasing number of guides, specialisation is must to beat the competition.”

However, TCB officials said tour operators should only employ guides with good knowledge and skills. “Competent guides will have a certain rate for their services,” an official said.

A senior guide said he still gets paid the same as he did when he first started in mid 2000.

“I used to get about Nu 1,000 to Nu 1,500 a day and the rate hasn’t changed since then,” he said. “With more guides now, we have to literally fight for tours with most of us being freelancers.”

Cultural guides are paid about Nu 500 to Nu 1,500 a day during peak season while in the lean season they get about Nu 500 to 1,000 depending on the clientele. Senior guides said the amount has been the same since the 90s when they first started.

A freelancer guide said it was difficult to get tours being a female guide and a new entrant to the industry. “This year was slightly better but the past two years, I was busy building contacts,” she said, adding she completed her guide course in 2012.

There are about 1,300 tour operators in the country today of which only about half are operational.

Of the 116,209 tourists who visited Bhutan last year, about 52,783 were international tourists, which means the guide-tourist ratio stands at 1:21. As a majority of tourists visit Bhutan in groups of more than three, in terms of group, the ratio is 1:4 groups.

Tour operators agreed that competition among guides is fierce today. However, they said, they were trying their best to engage as many guides as possible provided they are good.

A tour operator said that although there were so many of them, not all are specialised or senior, which makes it difficult to get good guides during peak seasons. If there are more than 10 tourists, two guides are employed.

“During peak seasons, we have to take new guides as assistant guides,” he said, adding assistant guides are paid about Nu 500 to 700 a day.

Despite experience, employability of guides also depends on feedback from tourists and their link with tour operators, said tour operators.

“Even if they are new entrants, if they are good at what they do, they will naturally get more business,” another tour operator said.

By Kinga Dema

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