Russians, French, and Iranians illegally operating as tour guides in Goa are "robbing the daily bread" of those licensed by the Indian government and that too under the very nose of the state's patron, St. Francis Xavier. The exasperated guides have now knocked on the door of Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar for relief.
"Only Indian guides authorized by the government of India can escort tourists at World Heritage sites like Old Goa. What's happening now is that Russian, French and even Iranians are posing as guides and taking groups of their nationalities around," Jenny Pacheco, one of the few female tour guides operating in Goa, told IANS after submitting a representation to the chief minister.
The 500-year-old plus Old Goa church complex is a Unesco-declared World Heritage site and is home to the embalmed remains of Basque saint St. Francis Xavier, who is considered the protector of Goa.
Xavier was one of the early Christian missionaries to India in the 1500s and hundreds of thousands of tourists annually flock to the church complex.
It is for her right to escort tourists around complex, as well as for her livelihood, that Pacheco hooked up with other tour guides to lobby together and tap on the chief minister's door.
The complaint spells out the names of several illegal travel agencies run by Russians and foreigners and doubling up as tour guides.
"The fact that foreign nationals are engaged in guiding at monuments can be traced from the footage of the CCTVs installed in the Basilica of Bom Jesus," the complaint says, urging the chief minister to act against the illegal guides.
"A lot of these guides are actually foreign escorts who accompany groups of tourists and then freelance as guides. They just read magazines and guidebooks and often end up misguiding tourists about the history and heritage of the place," said Advino Fernandes, another tour guide.
According to Fernandes, the best tourist season for guides works out to just three to four months when the money has got to be made and last for the rest of the year when foreign tourists virtually disappear.
This is because Indian tourists, who visit round the year, are less prone to hiring tour guides as compared to their foreign counterparts, who like to know the more interesting details about the heritage edifices they are strolling through.
"For foreign tourists, a guided tour is a part of their holiday package. Even if it is not, when foreigners arrive in groups, there are more chances that they will hire our services as compared to the domestics," said Pacheco.
"With foreigners illegally conducting tours, it is robbing us of our daily bread," Fernandes said.
This is not the first instance of locals have clashed with foreigners in Goa's cut-throat travel and tourism industry.
Some months ago, local taxi operators and Russian-operated cab agencies were locked in running feuds, some of them even getting bloody, with the former charging that the foreigner-operated service was illegal.
The incident even forced Parrikar to promise to crackdown on foreigners working in Goa without the requisite permissions.