Korean tour operators shy away from action on illegal guides

PHUKET CITY: Only eight of 57 Korean tour operators invited by the local office of the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) to discuss the hotly-debated topic of illegal Korean tour guides in Phuket were represented at a meeting on Tuesday organized by Phuket Governor Niran Kanlayanamit’s office.

Being a tour guide is a profession reserved for Thais, yet many Koreans continue to work illegally as guides, last year serving some of the 239,093 Korean tourists who came to Phuket and spent more than 16 billion baht.

In a bid to at least restrict the increasing number of illegal Korean guides, the governor’s office announced at the meeting a memorandum of understanding (MOU) that requires Korean operators to employ Korean-speaking Thais as guides.

On August 29 and 30, about 300 Thai guides will sit a Korean-language test set by the provincial administration and the Professional Guide Association (PGA).

According to the MOU, those who pass the test, which will be overseen by Korean-language experts, will begin working immediately for Korean tour operators.

The PGA called on the governor’s office to charge operators who illegally employ Korean guides and refuse to sign and abide by the MOU.

Korean tour operators at the meeting raised concerns that after employing Thai guides, many of them would quit and set up their own companies or work freelance, leading to staffing shortages.

The MOU is due to be signed August 14, though it is unclear how many Korean tour operators will sign the agreement.

Korean operators at the meeting said that they would hold a separate meeting to discuss the proposed MOU, informing other operators who were not able to attend Tuesday’s meeting.

The MOU is the latest development in a series of events that have seen the TAT and the governor’s office criticized for failing to crack down on Koreans working illegally as tour guides in Phuket.

Last November, some 25 Thai tour guides marched on Phuket Provincial Hall demanding the resignation of Suwalai Pinpradab, director of Tourism Authority of Thailand’s Southern Region 4 office.

In a letter written to Governor Niran, the Thai guides alleged that government officials had been taking bribes from Korean tour operators to allow them to continue hiring illegal guides.

Phuket News

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