Freelance tour guides in Vietnam are railing against a new law that will ban them from doing their jobs independently from next year.
In order to continue working as tour guides, they will have to either secure contracts with authorized travel companies or tour agencies, or join the Vietnam Association of Tour Guides, which was established early this month, under the amended Law on Tourism.
Nguyen Nam, a tour guide, told VnExpress that not many travel companies are willing to hire tour guides as permanent employees because it means they have to pay them monthly salaries and cover compensation and benefits packages.
Lo Kim Tuyen, another tour guide, also said it is difficult to find full-time work for travel companies at the moment.
Only big companies can afford salaried tour guides, and small firms are only capable of hiring freelancers when people book tours.
Freelancers work for small companies like “mercenaries”, Tuyen said.
They also said there are huge numbers of freelance tour guides ready to work at any time, so small companies do not have to worry about running short of collaborators.
Official government data shows almost 90 percent of the 20,000 tour guides in Vietnam are freelancers.
“I think now it’s impossible for small companies to pay for permanent tour guides. It means freelance tour guides have only one choice left: pay the fee and join the tour guide association,” Tuyen said.
Tour guide Dang Thanh lamented the fees, which include VND500,000 ($22) to sign up and an annual payment of VND1 million to keep the association running, given the fact that freelancers do not have a monthly salary and usually work seasonally.
Under current regulations, freelance tour guides in Vietnam only need a license to operate, but the new law means they will lose their self-employed status if they want to work legally.
“I studied for four years in college before spending a significant amount of time and money on training to obtain my license to guide foreign tourists,” a tour guide who wanted to remain anonymous said. “But it looks like that license is nothing compared to the association’s membership card.”
Many freelance guides have said the law is trying to force them to join the association, which is unfair because they should have the right to decide whether they want to join or not.
According to the Vietnam National Administration of Tourism; the establishment of the association is “timely and necessary to help create jobs for freelance tour guides, support them and protect their benefits, as well as allow authorities to easily oversee tour their operations.”
In 1999, a degree guiding the implementation of Vietnam’s Tourism Ordinance;said tour guides should be;allowed to work freely; according to Vu The Binh, vice chairman of the association.
When the ordinance was upgraded to a law in 2005, the regulation was kept unchanged.
But since then the number of freelance guides has spiralled out of control; and cases of tour guides disappearing as soon as they’ve been;paid or taking tourists to shops with inflated prices have been reported; he told Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper in a Monday report.
The association will allow tourists to offer both positive and negative feedback;on their guides and that information will be available for visitors to view, he said.
Vietnam has selected tourism as a pillar of economic growth. At a meeting of the legislative National Assembly last month; Deputy Prime Minister Vuong Dinh Hue said Vietnam needs to stop relying;on crude oil and focus on tourism to ensure its economic growth; saying mining output of fossil fuels has been falling for the past two years.
Now “it is better to welcome one million tourists than trying;to find one million tons of crude oil because tourism is more eco-friendly;and safe for the economy,” Hue said.
Official data shows Vietnam received more than 9.4 million foreign;visitors in the first nine months of this year; up 28.4 percent against the same period last year.