Illegal tourist guides to face tougher action

A suspected illegal tourist guide (in yellow polo T-shirt) waiting for unaccompanied tourists at the Merlion Park.

Suspected unlicensed tourist guides can be detained, questioned and even fined on the spot by enforcement officers, under proposed changes to the law.

Those who do not cooperate with the officers can even be hauled to the police station for further investigations.

Offenders may also face harsher penalties, with plans to double the maximum fine to $10,000 for recalcitrants.

The proposals come after a year-long review by the Ministry of Trade and Industry and the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) to tackle the growing menace amid surging tourist arrivals.

Those who do not play by the rules are often foreigners accompanying tour groups from overseas. Others may be work-pass holders who take on freelance guiding jobs without the requisite licence.

They frequently give wrong information to tourists and take away business from the 2,315 licensed guides here.

The ministry said in a statement on Friday that the proposed changes are part of the Government's ongoing efforts to raise the quality of tourist guides.

Second Minister for Trade and Industry S. Iswaran said they are "a key touch-point for many tourists" and are important in promoting Singapore.

He added that standards have to be improved and tougher action taken against illegal guides who could "otherwise tarnish Singapore's image and impede the professional development of the tourist guide industry".

Besides the proposed harsher penalties, STB also plans to improve the standards of guides here. It will roll out guidelines to better train licensed guides and raise their professionalism.

The tourism industry contributes 4 per cent of the country's gross domestic product. Visitor arrivals are slated to grow 3 per cent to 4 per cent a year for the next decade, down from the 6.6 per cent from 2002 to last year.

The Government is canvassing feedback on the proposed changes to the law till Dec 13 before the amendments go to Parliament.

The proposals to give STB enforcement officers more powers follow moves to nab illegal tourist guides. The board carried out 250 enforcement operations last year, up from 200 in 2011 and 100 in 2010.

It also introduced larger water- marked licence cards to make it easier for officers to detect illegal players.

But the measures have not been very successful.

The STB, which received 122 complaints last year against unlicensed guides, had difficulties detecting offenders and did not have enough clout to enforce the rules.

For instance, when questioned by enforcement officers, the suspected illegal guides would insist they are tourists providing commentary for their friends.

Some limit their work to private spaces, such as tour buses, to avoid detection.

News of the proposals has been cheered by licensed guides, who have been calling on the authorities to clamp down on illegal operators.

Many licensed guides have seen their incomes fall with the rise of illegal guides.

Mr M. Loganathan, an NTUC Tour Guide Chapter member, said: "It is high time to say no to these illegal guides who have been making a quick buck at the expense of Singapore's reputation as a tourist destination."

He thinks the authorities should also be more circumspect in issuing tourist guide licences to foreigners.

"It should not be a free- for-all... we should be more careful and hold them to higher standards to ensure they don't spoil the image of Singapore."

jermync@sph.com.sg


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