The Tourism Bureau wants to simplify the qualification process for tour guides in preparation for more tourists from Southeast Asia, which is part of the government’s “new southbound policy.”
However, industry sources said the efforts have been stymied due to the lack of guides competent in Southeast Asian languages.
Industry leaders met recently to discuss changes to regulations surrounding the certification of tour guides, such as no longer requiring guides to pass tests in the languages of groups they are assigned to; they only need to be competent in English or Mandarin.
Last month the government launched trial one-month visa-free entry for tourists from Thailand and Brunei.
Starting this month, visitors from Indonesia, Vietnam, the Philippines, India, Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos will be able to apply online for visa-free entry.
Under the old regulations — which required guides to speak the language of the tourists they were leading — the industry had difficulty launching into new markets. For example, while there are plenty of language-competent guides for visitors from Japan and South Korea, few tour guides speak Vietnamese.
However, under the new regulations, even if tourists from Vietnam can only understand Vietnamese, guides can still lead them if their tour leader speaks English or Mandarin and can act as a translator, the bureau said.
The bureau said that despite the new regulations, it would continue to promote language courses and tests for guides, and would work with the Ministry of Education, new immigrants and foreign nationals to develop a pool of individuals competent in Southeast Asian languages.
There are just 47 tour guides who speak Thai, 27 who speak Indonesian and 18 who speak Vietnamese, the bureau said.
“There are 13 languages that tour guides can test in, along with accompanying remedial language courses. Nevertheless, the number of foreign nationals who pass the tests is still low, since a portion of the test is in Chinese and the questions are difficult,” a bureau official who wanted to remain anonymous said.
“The bureau plans to approach testing institutions and ask them to make adjustments to the testing system. We will discuss the possibility of increasing the number of annual tests and the number of languages to be tested. We hope to see the difficulty level of the tests decreased to encourage new immigrants to consider becoming tour guides,” the official said.
Given that modifying the testing system involves legislative changes, there is no quick way to solve the guide shortage problem, the official said, adding that the bureau will work with travel agencies and guide associations to find short-term solutions.
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