The conduct of guides and drivers can become a matter of concern for the entire industry

Torusim: A hotelier in Gangtey, Phobjikha is considering court case after a driver allegedly misbehaved with the management and female staff of the hotel in front of the guests about a month ago.

The driver, in an intoxicated state, according to the hotel management, created a scene in front of the guests, complaining that the food served to guides and drivers was not good.  The driver allegedly showed porn clips on his mobile, and dragged female staff towards his vehicle.

The hotelier also said that the driver abused a housekeeping staff in presence of all the hotel staff, other guides and drivers.  She said she would raise the issue with Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB), Guides Association of Bhutan (GAB), and other relevant agencies before filing a court case.

This is not an isolated case according to hoteliers and tour operators. Another hotelier said she was shocked when a guide, after a trek from Gasa, asked his clients, a couple and another woman to share a room, although they had separate rooms booked, so that he could have a room for himself.

“The guide said he was tired after the trek, and that guides weren’t entitled to separate rooms,” she said. “The guests sympathised with him and shared the room.”

GAB receives about 20 complaints against guides in a year and the “fewer complaints”, according to the association, is an indication that guides are performing well and professional.

The association chairman, Garab Dorji, said guides were constantly reminded of the dos and don’ts that they must adhere to, as stipulated in the GAB’s code of conducts and ethics. “When we receive complaint of guides misbehaving on tours or unprofessionalism, we call them and ask for explanation,” he said. “If the case is severe, we forward the case to the tourism disciplinary committee.”

The guides are either warned or penalised with fines, besides suspension and cancellation of their license.

The code of conduct for guides states that a guide should abide by the rules of the hotel or restaurant, and refrain from demanding free lodging or food at hotels, and harass the hotel or restaurant staff.  For drivers, it is mandatory that they adhere to the rules and regulations prescribed by relevant authorities, besides being courteous and polite at all times, and refrain from chewing doma and smoking while on duty.

However, hoteliers claimed that such incidents were aplenty, especially during the peak season, which they usually settle after informing the concerned tour operators.  As per the code of conduct, even tour operators are liable to ensure that tour guides, employees or other persons engaged in providing goods or services to a tourist must ensure that they act as per the existing regulations.

A tour operator said that, although tourism was a lucrative business, it was sensitive as well. “Small incidents could have a huge impact on the destination,” he said. “Such incidents happen mostly because of lack of sensitisation of the code of conduct and regulations, which freelance drivers should also bear in mind.”

Having a code of conduct, hoteliers said, didn’t help if it was not implemented. “Drivers are under the supervision of guides when on tours, so it also becomes a guide’s responsibility to ensure that such incidents don’t occur,” another hotelier said.

Most expressed the need to train drivers, and that even attitude of drivers, both permanent and freelancers, have a huge impact on the industry.  Although it’s not mandatory for hotels to serve guides and drivers’ food and lodge, hoteliers said they have to follow the customary practice, because of the competition with so many hotels.

While TCB receives a few cases of guides misbehaving, officials said they have not received any reports on drivers so far. “Unless it’s a penal offence, which is chargeable under penal code, in which case it’s reported to the police, otherwise any breach is put up to the disciplinary committee,” TCB spokesperson Namgay Wangmo said.

TCB officials said that the government has instructed TCB and the Road Safety and Transport Authority to establish a system to issue separate licenses for tourist vehicle drivers. “Tour operators, who hire drivers and guides, should check their licenses and equipment (vehicles), and brief them on the dos and don’ts before they’re with tourists to avoid unnecessary problems,” Namgay Wangmo said. “Tour operators are equally responsible if there are any complaints from the tourists.”

GAB chairman Garab Dorji also said that only a negligible number of cases against drivers were reported so far. “Should a driver misbehave, the concerned tour operator or car owner has to be contacted and informed about the driver’s conduct and, if severe, the case should be forwarded to the discipline committee.”

“Guides are the face of the industry. It’s through them that tourists get an impression of the country,” he said. “It’s important that guides and drivers are professional.”

By Kinga Dema