Tour guides have expressed interest in working with scholars to learn about historic sites around Madurai

The importance of tourist guides in promoting tourism can be gauged from the importance accorded to them in the policy note of 2012 – 2013.

In the documents, Tourism Department has included in its strategies for tourism development the need for human resource development in tourism and hospitality sector by conducting training programmes for tourist guides.

Guides play a vital role in tourism promotion, the policy note stated, adding that they were responsible for projecting the right image of the country, giving factual information, caring for the safety of the tourists and ensuring their pleasant stay.

Tamil Nadu Tourism in co-ordination with the Anna Institute of Management, Chennai is conducting Guide Training Programmes for the unemployed youth and retired Government officials. During 2012-13, Guide Training will be given for 482 persons.

While they have been given importance, tour guides in Madurai, a major tourism destination that attracts thousands every year, feel a lot of work remains to be done

Guides workshop

Recognising their importance in boosting tourism, the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), Madurai Zone, held a workshop recently for tour guides in association with the Madurai chapter of the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH).

According to Rukumini Thiagarajan, convenor of tourism panel, CII Madurai Zone, the tourism industry in Madurai witnesses a steady stream of visitors every year beginning from the months of August till end of March. However, a majority visit only the world-famous Meenakshi Sundareswarar Temple, thus making the city a one-night destination.

This, she said, resulted in tourists missing out on significant locations such as Jain caves, Mariamman Teppakulam, Koodal Andavar temple, Kazimar Mosque, flower bazaar, weaving and jewellery making clusters, sungudi saris, granite sculpting and a chance to taste local cuisine and watch silambam. Tourists miss “the true Madurai experience,” she stresses.

To put Madurai in the map of long-staying destinations, an initiative was being undertaken to organise a 3 day trip showcasing the culture, arts, history and village life in and around Madurai.

“In this initiative, we need the active participation of stake holders and our interactions with tour guides have been quite an eye opener. They are the first interface,” said Ms. Rukumini Thiagarajan.

Tour guides have expressed keen interest in working with scholars to learn more about the hidden secrets of temples and other historic sites around Madurai. A learning mission to the Meenakshi temple is being contemplated along with a visit to the Jain caves for the tour guides. Plans were afoot to bring in senior tour guides from other States and countries to address local tour guides so they could discuss common concerns and gain exposure.

A.S. Sivagurunathan, president of Madurai Tour Guides Welfare Association, opined more efforts must be taken to promote local tour guides.

Foreign tourists who come in groups mostly bring in their open master guides who were mostly reluctant to engage local tour guides. They do so only when they are restricted like in places such as Mahabalipuram and Thanjavur where they are barred.

Many business visitors to the city also do not hire locals as their firm sends executives to accompany them. While a few big hotels recommended the use of guides to its patrons, many medium-sized hotels did not do so. “Further, the projection of tour guides in films were also not favourable and most of the time, we are being depicted in a bad light,” he added.

To boost tour guides, he said that information on the guides who have accreditation - which was given only after a rigorous process that ensured only the qualified get license – must be displayed in all hotels, railway junctions, airport, and hotels.

Awareness must be created among both the Indian and foreign tourists about the need to use tour guides so that they could have an informative experience, said Mr. Sivagurunathan.

He said that India Tourism had accredited around 500 tour guides in the four southern States. In addition, the Tamil Nadu Tourism Department has provided recognition to another 300 tour guides. Madurai had seven India Tour approved guides and 35 approved by the State Tourism Department.

Increase work opportunities

Mr. Selvaraj, a freelance tour guide, said that contrary to popular perception, recognised guides were well educated and highly motivated. There has to be more work opportunities for tour guides who now have work for only about six months a year and no other fixed income.

If local tourism was promoted, it would develop the entire sector and tour guides were the best placed to promote tourism. In this sector, he said that word-of-mouth publicity was the best publicity for a place as expensive and glitzy advertisement campaigns have only limited impact.

“We are going to sell some that can only been seen with eyes and cater to people with very varied interests. This kind of work can be done better by tour guides who can offer a perspective,” added Mr. Selvaraj.

More In: Madurai