NTUC move to set tour guide rates draws flak

As of December last year, there were 2,360 licensed tour guides here, such as freelancers and guides employed by travel agencies. They can charge as little as $10 an hour, or up to $180 per hour.
As of December last year, there were 2,360 licensed tour guides here, such as freelancers and guides employed by travel agencies. They can charge as little as $10 an hour, or up to $180 per hour.ST FILE PHOTO

Recommendations not practical as services vary a lot, say guides, agents

A union group has come up with guidelines on what tour guides can charge, a move that has been criticised by the industry.

The National Trades Union Congress' (NTUC) Tour Guide Chapter has outlined the minimum fees for guides, which includes charging $150 for a four-hour, half-day tour, and $250 for a full-day one.

Freelance guides and travel agents The Straits Times spoke to said guides' services are too varied to come under a standard price. The move was "anti-competitive", they said, even though there are no penalties for not following the recommendations.

As of December last year, there were 2,360 licensed tour guides here, such as freelancers and guides employed by travel agencies. They can charge as little as $10 an hour, or up to $180 per hour for someone with specialised knowledge or who speaks multiple languages.

The Straits Times understands the guidelines were set during a meeting on July 10 and took effect this month. The reasons for introducing them are unclear.

Ms Cham Hui Fong, executive secretary of the Attractions, Resorts and Entertainment Union (AREU) that oversees the Tour Guide Chapter, would not confirm the new guidelines.

"Our guides have been sharing their challenges with us, and discussions are ongoing," said Ms Cham, who is also assistant secretary-general of NTUC.

Most industry players do not support the move.

Ms Jean Wang, honorary secretary of the Society of Tourist Guides (Singapore), explained that it was difficult to standardise prices when different markets have varied requirements, a sentiment echoed by travel agents. Some visitors may demand higher service levels, while others may emphasise knowledge and language skills, she said. Time spent on assignments may also vary.

Ms Alicia Seah, director of marketing communications at Dynasty Travel, added that guidelines are not practical because prices vary according to the type of tour being conducted.

A half-day tour to Sentosa, for instance, may cost less than one to attractions such as the Botanic Gardens or the Peranakan Museum, as the guide has to provide less commentary for the former, she noted.

But freelance guide Leong Pengkun, 54, welcomed them. "Some guides are underpaid because of their age, or they get paid less when they are hired by agencies who want to increase their profit margins, so it would be better if there were standardised fees."

Back in 2007, the Singapore Medical Association scrapped its fee guidelines due to concerns that they might infringe the Competition Act, which came into effect the previous year.

A Competition Commission of Singapore spokesman said it is working with AREU to look into the latest case, adding that a conclusion can be drawn only after a "thorough study of the detailed circumstances of each case".

But, she added, price recommendations, binding or not, "tend to lead to prices clustering around the recommended levels" and could harm the competitive process by distorting independent pricing decisions.

She urged businesses to set their prices independently.

audreyt@sph.com.sg

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