The new breed of visitors to Singapore tend to be independent and discerning travellers who do their own research.
This means that for local tour guides to remain relevant, they need to be up to date with what goes on in Singapore, have good people skills and be able to give commentaries beyond information found in guidebooks.
To train, develop and encourage guides to do that, new initiatives were launched yesterday by a government taskforce comprising the Singapore Workforce Development Agency, Employment and Employability Institute and the Singapore Tourism Board (STB).
The training curriculum for prospective guides will be tweaked from next year to include more practical training hours, new e-learning modules and new modules, such as how to write a tour commentary. Licensed guides can sign up for a wider spectrum of professional development courses, which include the teaching of soft skills like story-telling and interpersonal skills, STB said at a media briefing yesterday.
To encourage guides to stay in the profession, exemplary guides will be recognised with new awards called the Long Service and Quality of Guiding awards. These, in the form of customised pin badges which can be worn while leading tours, will be given out at an annual award ceremony from next year.
"Tourist guides are integral to the tourism landscape and tell the Singapore story to our visitors. We want to acknowledge them for their contributions," said STB's director of travel agents and tourist guides, Ms Ong Ling Lee.
As of July 6, Singapore has 2,446 licensed guides.
STB has also awarded the Society of Tourist Guides (Singapore) (STGS) a grant to further train and market the skills of its members over the next three years. The amount, which STB did not reveal, is from the board's $15 million Association Development Fund unveiled in April last year to support tourism-related associations.
"With funding support, the society, currently run by tourist guides, can now focus more on the needs of our members," said Mr Howard Lim, chairman of the 450-member STGS. "We will be engaging full-time professionals to execute our numerous projects, which include plans for training and the use of technology to market the services of our guides," he added.
Ms Jean Wang, 60, a tour guide of 36 years, welcomed the initiatives. "Being a good guide is not just about knowledge, but people skills," said Ms Wang, who is also honorary secretary of STGS. "It's about how to be relevant to the tourists, like knowing which ones will be open to trying masala tea or even fish head curry."