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Tour guides feel the bumps as travel slumps  Feb 24, 2009

Tour guide Casimir Tee wants to explore a new world - career-wise.

Bookings by visitors for local tours have dipped by 40 per cent in the last six months, despite him charging 80 per cent less, and he has been looking for a new job.

But he has had no luck so far. Last week, for example, the 48-year-old assistant general manager at Elegance Travel was told that he was 'too old' for a front- desk job in a three-star hotel.

He is not alone in feeling the blues.

Of the 20 other local tour guides The Sunday Times spoke to, 18 noted that demand for their services has dimmed by at least 30 per cent.

The global downturn is hurting the tourism industry.

The Singapore Tourism Board (STB) reported a 6.9 per cent decline in arrivals, from 954,000 in December 2007 to 888,000 in December last year.

It expects this year to be a challenging one.

Currently, there are 2,181 licensed tour guides, most of whom are freelancers.

Mr Desmond Wee, 40, a guide of 13 years, is earning 30 per cent less compared to last year.

'This recession is going to last for nine months or up to a year. We're not getting enough assignments to feed our families,' he lamented.

Mr Michael Sim, a 16-year veteran, said the poorer demand for guides actually started two years ago.

'These days, tourists prefer to go on free-and-easy tours. Why do they need a guide to take them around?' said the 40-year-old, who is also a part-time karate instructor.

One ray of hope may lie in efforts made now to promote the country among Singaporeans and foreigners resident here as a place to explore and enjoy.

Yesterday, the STB and the Society of Tourist Guides Singapore (STGS) jointly organised free heritage tours to places like Waterloo Street and Beach Road, as part of International Tourist Guide Day.

By the end of next month, these tours - led by STGS members - will be launched, with rates from $20 per person. Private and specialised tours will also be available.

The STGS is encouraging members to be more versatile.

Its chairman, Ms Jean Wang, said: 'Many are taking advantage of the lull to upgrade themselves by attending relevant courses.

'Some have created their own niche areas over time. With the changing tourism situation, we're encouraging guides to be more entrepreneurial.'

Ms Caroline Leong, director of the hospitality division at STB, has noted more interest from tourists in areas such as nature, architecture, heritage and fengshui.

'Additional guides in these areas will help add diversity to the tours being offered and also ensure that when better times return, Singapore can meet the different needs,' she said.

The STB is encouraging guides to upgrade themselves, such as learning a new language, added Ms Leong.

Some guides are up for it.

Mr Just Ng, 45, is considering taking language classes like Japanese.

Amid the general gloom - he has fewer bookings and has seen more cancelled tours over the past year - he is gearing up to be in this trade for the long haul.

'This job allows me to be in Sentosa and the zoo during office hours. I don't want to be bounded by four walls,' said Mr Ng, who quit an information technology job to be a guide two years ago.

Tour guides feel the bumps as travel slumps
Some tour guides such as Mr Tee are looking to switch jobs / Image via

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