Already hit by Covid-19’s body blow to the tourism industry, Regional Level Tourist Guides (RLG), certified by the Union ministry of tourism, are peeved by the government’s decision to cancel the renewal of their licenses after March 2021. The 3,200 RLG will also have to undergo an ‘Incredible India Tourist Facilitator Certification (IITFC)’, which they say is ‘demoting’ them to ‘tourist facilitators’ from the globally accepted ‘tourist guides’.
The tourism ministry had on March 2 issued an office memorandum (OM) withdrawing its 2011 guidelines on the selection and grant of guide licences to RLGs. The OM stated that the ministry would not induct any fresh RLGs or issue fresh licences for them. The existing licences would be valid till March 31, 2021.
“The existing valid Regional Level Tourist Guide license holders will have to undergo the IITF Refresher Course before 31st March, 2021 in order to get the IITF Advanced Category (Heritage) certificate, which would enable them to continue guiding at ASI Protected Monuments and Heritage sites,” the OM read.
The decision that the tourism ministry stated had been “reconsidered and reviewed at various forums” has not gone down well with the guiding community. Mina Tilakraj (69) has been a RLG in the Delhi region for 35 years, guiding English and Italian-speaking tourists. She said, “It is like telling a doctor that he will now be a paramedic. Will a doctor agree to be called a paramedic?”
Tourist guides across the country’s five regions (North, East, West, South and Northeast), she said, have had close to no income amid the pandemic and going forward, if their licences are not renewed, it would only set them back further and treat them at par with people not as qualified or experienced to do the job, said Tilakraj.
In an email sent to Director General, Ministry of Tourism, Meenakshi Sharma on July 23, Tilakraj and four other RLGs wrote that there are 3,200 registered RLGs in the country and over 12,000 guides in all, including State Tourist Guides, Local Tourist Guides and Monument Tourist Guides.
“We, the RLGs, are the cultural ambassadors of India. We have been selected, trained, and have our guiding licences accredited by the tourism ministry. Our minimum required qualification was graduation. Now the government has introduced a new course for creating ‘Tourist Facilitators’. The educational qualification required is Class 10 and 10+2,” said Tilakraj.
She added, “The term ‘Tourist Guide’ is a global term approved by UNESCO’s UNWTO. A ‘Tourist Facilitator’ is a term accepted globally for a person who facilitates a tourist’s entry and stay in the visiting country. He or she goes for arrivals, departures, does check-ins and checkouts at hotels and takes care of documentations, passport & bookings of tickets, meals, shows, etc.”
She had, in July, also written an email to tourism minister Prahlad Singh Patel, stating that the livelihood of over 3,200 RLGs was at stake on account of the government’s decision.
The ministry of tourism did not respond to queries sent by The Indian Express in an email.
Tilakraj had, however, received a reply to her email on July 10 from Sunil Kumar, Assistant Director (TT). Kumar wrote in his reply, “After discussion at various forums and levels, a decision has been taken by the Archaeological Survey of India, Ministry of Culture and Ministry of Tourism to discontinue with the system of licensing of guides and to introduce a Certification Programme in its place. In accordance with the same the IITFC Programme has been launched…”
The email in reply also stated, “On completion of the Course, RLGs will be given the Advance Course Certification (Heritage) under the IITFC Programme. This will enable the RLGs to take tourists / visitors to all ASI sites and monuments on pan-India basis. The IITF Certificate will therefore broaden the opportunities for the existing RLGs”.
Tilakraj said that while the intention of the government was to create more jobs, regional licences ensured employment opportunities for regional and local guides. With tourists facilitators allowed to go pan-India, guides in Delhi, where most foreign tourists arrive, may lap up most of the opportunities, hurting guides in smaller towns, she said.
Kumar’s email in reply had also stated, “The Ministry will be developing an e-marketing portal with details of all certified Tourist Facilitators including their qualifications and experience….By virtue of their vast experience in the field, RLGs will have a distinct advantage over others on the platform.”
Jiwan Jyoti Pateriya (70) has been a RLG in the western region, taking foreign tourists around Khajuraho and the rest of Madhya Pradesh. With 50 years of guiding experience and fluency in Italian, Spanish, German, French and Japanese, Pateriya said, “This refresher course (IITFC) is irrelevant for us. Does our experience have no value? It would also not be right for us, at our advanced age and years of experience, to be put at par with tourist facilitators. ‘Tourist guides’ is what we have traditionally been called and that is what we should always be called.”
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