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Not game for incredible India

Delhi govt says it can't launch licensing scheme to regulate tour guides and travel operators before the CW Games. Avishek G Dastidar reports.

delhi Updated: Aug 11, 2010 23:36 IST
Avishek G Dastidar

The Delhi government will not be able to launch its ambitious scheme of awarding licences to travel agents and tour operators meant to make the Capital a safe city for tourists during the Commonwealth Games.

Introduced over a year ago, the scheme was aimed at turning the Delhi Tourism department into a regulator in the vastly

Government guidelines for travel agents/tour operators

MONEY TALK

The turnover in terms of foreign exchange equivalent to Indian rupees should be a minimum of R 5 lakh

OFFICE SPACE

The applicant should possess and maintain a fully furnished office with adequate staff to attend to the need of the customer to look after their luggage…maintain proper records containing complete particulars regarding names and addressed of tourists and shall furnish to the Tourism Department of Delhi a daily return showing particulars of these contracts.

TECH SAVVY

Office should be located in neat and clean surroundings and equipped with computer/computer reservation system.

YES TO ENGLISH

He (tour operator/travel agent) should have effective communication skills having knowledge of English.

QUALIFICATION

There should be a minimum of two staff out of which one should have Diploma/Degree in travel and tourism from recognised university/ITTM/institution approved by AICTE or three years of working experience in the Tourism industry.

LOCAL TALENT

The applicant should employ only regional guides trained and licensed by the Ministry of Tourism.

NO, NO

No such applicant shall advertise in any newspaper, book list, classified directory or other publication without quoting licence number.

SAFETY FIRST

The applicant will be responsible for providing safety and security to the tourists particularly during the period the tourists remain in contact with them.

unchecked market of travel and tourism.

It was meant to ensure only authenticated (duly verified and monitored constantly by the authorities) players remained in the market by eliminating fly-by-night agencies and touts. This was also meant to be preventive against fraud and other crimes — rape, murder and the like — involving tourists during the prestigious sporting event.

Countless meetings later — the last one happened some time in April — the government realised it had missed the bus.

"Now it cannot be launched before the Games," admitted P.K. Tripathy, Principal Secretary, Tourism.

"We have taken the views of the stakeholders. We will launch after the Games."

Tour operators, the very entities this scheme is supposed to rein in, are finding the licensing terms "too strict" and are refusing to play ball.

In the original form, the guidelines wanted the operators to be accountable in case of mishaps involving tourists — accidents, crimes, baggage lost, etc.

They were required to inform the local police every day about tourist arrivals and departure, cars booked by tourists, places visited, changes in travel plans, etc. All drivers had to be verified and commercial licence holders.

Moreover, any operator with an annual turnover of less than R 5 lakh in foreign exchange was not fit to be a licence holder.

"In the wake of security threats and spate of crimes involving tourists, we wanted to bring the sector under a uniform net of accountability and stop the thriving of unauthorised players," Tripathy said.

The Union Ministry of Tourism has a similar set of guidelines but just for "voluntary recognition". Delhi wanted its licence terms to be mandatory. While the Tourism Ministry's was a five-year recognition certificate, Delhi's was subject to an annual scrutiny.

Looking at the strictness of the guidelines, the Tour Operators' Association of India (TOAI)—a body of 1300 companies—called the scheme "illogical". Only around 300 of its 1300-odd members have the Tourism Ministry's recognition.

"It was absurd. It was not our job to keep tab on tourists the way the scheme wanted," said Pranab Sarkar, Vice President of TOAI. "We said we would be on board only if the guidelines were altered." So, the government blinked and watered down the scheme.

"It's not wise to roll out a law without any regard to the stakeholders' concerns," explained Tripathy.

Among the many changes, now the operators were not supposed to keep the police in constant touch anymore, neither were they "strictly required to" keep an inventory of tourist movements. The annual scrutiny has been done away with. Instead, the license will be renewable every five years. And instead of a thorough scrutiny, the Delhi government will just insert an official in the checking party of the Tourism Ministry for the five-yearly check.

Now, with egg on its face and fingers crossed, the Delhi government is hoping that October passes without any incident of tourist getting murdered, raped or in the least, duped by unauthorised tour operators.

Twosides

Middlemen are the menace

"I visit Delhi every four years. Each trip makes me realise that the gap between the haves and have-nots gets wider and

Chilling reminders of unsafe city

June 29, 2010: A Brazilian student alleged her landlord raped her after giving her drug-laced coffee in the posh Greater Kailash house. The accused had confiscated the victim's passport, cash and other belongings and raped her twice while she was in a drug-induced stupor.

June 26, 2010: Two Dutch women alleged they were repeatedly raped and robbed of their money and passports by two men posing as tourist guides. The women who were on a world tour had checked into a hotel in Paharganj where they came in contact with a Kashmiri duo posing as travel guides. The accused allegedly lured the women to Srinagar and repeatedly raped them for over a week.

March 17, 2004: Dawn Emilie Griggs, an Australian tourist on her maiden trip to the country, was abducted by two taxi drivers outside the IGI Airport. The accused duo held her captive in their vehicle and robbed her of all her money. They killed her and then dumped her body in an open field near the airport.

wider," Pooja Ghai (22), a pharmacist who was born in Jalandhar but brought up in Wales and London, told Hindustan Times.

She said the capital's tour and travels infrastructure was light years away from that which is in place in the UK, thanks to middlemen.

"Despite the fact that London Underground is very popular, the state owns and leases vehicles running as taxis. Since there are no middlemen they can earn a good income and take all of it home," she said.

"In Delhi, the auto drivers' income is subject to the whims of the owner who leases it to a poor driver in dire need. What do you expect from cab drivers working on minimal pay? They have to supplement their income somehow — and that's why they fleece tourists," said Ghai.

She said the government was aggravating this situation further by not stepping in as regulator.

"A city's transportation system is its lifeline. The government should do more to encourage small operators trying to make a living instead of putting them down with ridiculous guidelines," she said.

"They're the first ones to interact with visitors, not government officials or the 'real' owners of the vehicles," she added.

White skin means rich to them

Rob Clare (45), a director from the UK's Shakespeare Company, paid R 3,000 to a local cab driver for being ferried five kilometres, from Greater Kailash to Hauz Khas in March.

He said white skin translates to 'rich' in their heads.

"Their price doubles, or more than doubles. But I don't think small time tour operators and travel agents are the only ones to blame," he said.

"Though commuting is not a problem in the city, there is a variety of means of transportation from buses, rickshaws, cycle rickshaws (for short distance commute) and cabs, and now many radio cabs, local cabs and autos always try to fleece foreign tourists," Clare told Hindustan Times.

According to Clare, there is a hidden side to such dubious transactions mired in the poverty of small-time operators and consequently their staff's.

"With both auto rickshaws and small time private cab drivers, the rent or the EMI costs a fortune. Though there has been no increase in their fares, I hear the price of petrol/gas keeps on skyrocketing. They also have families to take care of in a hard city like Delhi and it makes them want to always make those extra bucks," Clare added.

He said the government needed to bring small and middle level operators in the mainstream rather than promoting big players in the market.

'Is diploma better than skills?'

"It doesn't matter how many times small travel business operators like me apply for recognition from the government, our files get lost at one level or the other," said Manoj Sharma (35).

In the tour and travels business for five years, Sharma said it was unjustified for the government to come out with repressive guidelines months before innumerable small businesses like his were expecting unprecedented demand for their vehicles.

"In a business like ours, one's managerial skills matter and not educational qualifications. Most people in this business make their living because of their ability to make quick and effective decisions at short notice," Sharma said.

"I don't know how having a staff fluent in English or holding a diploma can supplement human instinct and ability."

'Only for the bigger players'

"The only thing that the state government wants to do is ensure that the big players in the profession do good while the little fry is trapped in official hurdles," said Dharmender Khanna (43), who has been on the business for the last three years.

It took Khanna more than three months to get himself registered.

"First they asked me to get verified from the local police station. But when I went there they said they didn't know how to do that. Then they raised issues with my staff not being 'qualified' enough. I had to reshuffle my entire operation just to get registered," Sharma exclaimed.

He said the state government was turning a blind eye to the fact that the local tours and travels sector had seen a boom like no other.

"Instead of utilizing our vast network, the state government has streamlined the guidelines for big tour operators known more for renting luxury cars," he said.

Sharma said the state had started acting like a lobby of private banks, which also make life difficult for small businesses like his.

Profiles by Jatin Anand