The rise of peer-to-peer tour guide websites masks a real issue that pre-dates them: Illegal, unliscensed guides scamming unsuspecting tourists.
Tour operators are facing difficulties fixing problems arising from illegal tour guides using international tourism websites to promote their programmes.
Chinawut Chinaprayoon, director of food tour company Navatas Hospitality, said travel websites were growing quickly and many illegal tour guides liked to use this channel to promote their packages.
“Many locals and expatriates have listed their tour programmes on tourism websites such as Bemyguest.com.sg and Withlocals.com, but many do so without licences. It will be all right if they offer quality tours but, if not, who will take responsibility for tourists?” he asked.
It’s an issue Thailand should not overlook, Mr Chinawut said. The authorities should update tourism-related laws to catch up with the new tourism trend on the internet.
“Many countries have improved their laws and regulations to solve this problem. For Thailand, we should start thinking about how to deal with this issue in the near future,” he added.
Navatas, the owner of Bangkokfoodtours.com, has also listed its tourism products on its own and other websites. Mr Chinawut said Thai travel operators should adjust to catch up with this new marketing channel.
Meanwhile, the Tourism Department has recognised this problem, saying it is difficult to crack down on illegal tour services on the internet.
“New tour players enter the online world every day. We cannot catch them all. Thailand is one of the preferred tourism destinations among foreign tourists, so illegal tour guides, especially expatriates, take this opportunity to use the online channel to offer their tour packages and the main target is free independent travellers (FITs),” said director-general Anuphap Kesornsuwan.
The department expects Thailand to welcome more than 25 million visitors this year, lower than the 26.5 million last year. About 70% of arrivals will be FITs.
The Tourism Department said solving the problem of illegal tour services needs the cooperation of related organisations including private tourism operators, the Ministry of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) and the Tourist Police. Thai people and the media can be a network to observe illegal activities on the internet and inform the department.
Mr Anuphap said many cases must be sued under ICT-related laws.
“Thailand’s fast-growing tourism business leads to a lack of tour guides for visitors. We will try to speed up training new tour guides. Foreign tour guides have better language skills than local ones, so many foreigners living here see this chance and try to offer guided tour services without having a licence,” he said.
The department is revising tourism-related laws to tackle the issue. In future, tourism fair organisers must seek permission from the department and present details including the number of tour companies.
In cases of fraud, related parties must pay compensation to tourists. The department is trying to push for the approval of a new law by year-end.
Photo credit: A tour bus in Thailand. Michael Stout / Flickr