The Vietnam National Administration of Tourism has proposed banning individuals from working as tour guides unless they are contracted employees of specific travel firms, or members of a travel association.
The proposal has sparked outrage amongst local freelance guides, many of whom will lose their livelihoods if the suggestion is enforced.
According to the VNAT, starting January 2018, a tour guide will only be allowed to operate if they have a license, and a contract with a travel firm, a tour organizer or are members of a travel society or tour guide association.
The tightened controls are in line with new tourism laws, taking effect in 2017, the tourism watchdog said.
Tour guides protest
Under the current law, individuals wishing to operate as tour guides already have to apply for a license in order to be considered legal.
However, not all licensed tour guides wish to sign contracts with a single company and prefer working as freelancers, meaning they can enter short-term agreements to work for multiple travel firms.
The arrangement also works for travel firms who do not want to pay wages to contracted employees in the off-season, when they have very few customers, making the use of freelance tour guides is a sensible option.
Tour guides themselves say that working freelance allows them to be more flexible.
“If, for example, company A fails to attract enough bookings to launch a tour, company B may have multiple packages fully booked and be in need of licensed tour guides,” one insider wrote on Facebook.
“As a freelancer, I can offer to work for company B right away and cooperate with company A whenever it needs me.
“This is impossible if I were a contracted employee of company A.”
Despite the outcry from freelance tour guides, industry insiders have thrown their support behind the proposal.
Le Dinh Huy, chairman of the tour guide club of the central city of Hue, said the new regulation would keep the market free of freelance tour guides who behave improperly.
“Many tour guides have organized their own packages without permission from travel firms, and take their guests to restricted or dangerous areas, or try to squeeze money from them,” Huy elaborated.
Huy’s view is echoed by Luu Duc Ke, director of Hanoitourist, who said a few ‘bad apples’ have spoiled the reputation of Vietnam’s tourism industry.
He said the new regulation will also curb the phenomenon of freelance tour guides overcharging their guests.
Pham Le Thao, deputy head of the travel department under the VNAT, said several freelance tour guides had damaged the reputations of the travel firms they had worked with.
Thao recalled one case in which a travel firm hired a freelance tour guide to pick up a group of international tourists, but he failed to show up or notify the company.
“The foreign visitors had already completed immigration and were left ‘abandoned’ after passing through the border gate with the tour guide nowhere to be seen.
“Incidents like this severely impact the reputation of Vietnam’s tourism industry.”
Thao said that the VNAT proposal is not a mandate that all tour guides must join specific companies.
“They can choose to either become a contracted employee of a company, or a member of a travel association,” she said.