In a bid to deal with the impact of COVID-19 on their livelihoods, Tourist Guides’ Federation of India (TGFI), representing around 3,500 regional tourist guides licensed by Government of India across the country, has approached Prime Minister Narendra Modi and tourism minister Prahlad Singh Patel, requesting a relief package.
Shakeel Wahab Chauhan, Nominated Vice President, TGFI, says that because of no business coming their way in this time of lockdown, most of the member associations might lose their entire year’s income and most of them do not have any funds to survive. TGFI has thus approached the PMO and MOT for some relief. “We have also written to Amitabh Kant, CEO, Niti Aayog. Today, because of the pandemic, we don’t know if tourism is going to survive or restart. We are not salaried employees of any travel agency or anybody else. We get a licence with one of the signed conditions being that we will not be able to do any other job apart from this. Hence, we are dependent on this work and the problem is that it’s a seasonal job for five to six months. This year, right amidst the season, this pandemic happened and now we need a financial package as many of us have home loans and different loans on our heads. We request the government to suspend these EMIs for at least six months. We will start paying them after business restarts. There are different categories of rates for guides, minimum being `2,200 for half-day sightseeing. Hence, the government should consider this, so that we can get a minimum amount for the next six months for us to be able to survive, as we cannot do any other job,” he says.
Urging tour operators for payments
TGFI has also approached tour operators and IATO for the release of their payments. “We also have a demand from the travel agents. All the tour operators are paid in advance from the clients, but we don’t get it in advance from them. Once we work for them, we get our wages after the season is over. This is a big issue, because COVID-19 crisis happened in the middle of the season, and now we have our payments due. Now the season has ended, and we have minimum of `2 lakh-3 lakh due for each guide, as it is for the whole year. If the tour operators release our payments as well, it will be quite helpful for us,” he informs.
In this regard, Chauhan claims that they have also approached the local handling agents or excursion agents as well as Indian Association of Tour Operators (IATO), but they haven’t got any support. “Thus, instead of travel agents, we are approaching our own ministry for the release of financial assistance,” he adds.
There are over 3,500 regional-level guides across the nation, recognised by Government of India and divided into four regions—East, West, North and South. Sharing his views on the Incredible India Tourist Facilitator Certification (IITFC), Chauhan says, “We are against it because the term ‘facilitators’ literally means to facilitate something. They can facilitate tourists arriving and departing at airports, railway stations, check-in, etc., and we are fine with that. It is good for the people once they are trained, since they would be going in front of the foreign nationals, which is good for the image of the country. However, the IITFC guidelines mention that the facilitators can also go to the monuments to guide. It seems that MOT wants to finish the word ‘guide’, despite it being globally recognised. The tourist won’t understand a facilitator, but would know what a guide is. Secondly, in the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act 1958, there is a clause— Rule 8B, according to which nobody can converse, guide and go for any commercial gain into the national protected monument without having a licence. We are licensed according to that, so how can facilitators do the guiding inside the protected monument?” he questions. The matter is still sub judice, and TGFI has also made its representation to Meenakshi Sharma, DG, Tourism, for the same.