Licensed guides pushing for strict rules

The city says its hands are tied and there is no will to change the rules

Licensed tour guides in the city center are complaining about competition from free tours, but the city says that they can’t change the situation under the current law. Since 2008, people have been allowed give tours without a license. These so-called free tours don’t have a fee in advance, but guides can accept tips at the end.

The Czech Tour Guides Association (Sdružení průvodců ČR) claims that unqualified tours guides give out distorted and false information. The association says that people who give out free tours for voluntary contributions usually lack Czech language skills, historical knowledge and do not undergo professional training.

But guides for free tours can earn decent money in tips. An amendment to the 2008 Trades Licensing Act removed the qualifications for guides. No level of expertise is required, guides only need to obtain a trade license.

The city claims that changes have to come from the Ministry of Regional Development, as the city cannot pass local laws that contravene the national law.

Licensed guides complain not only about the lack of expertise bat also about the free tour guides causing an unpleasant atmosphere in the city center by loudly competing for clients and conducting loud, disorganized tours.

The Czech Tour Guides Association has sent a letter to City Councilor Jan Wolf (KDU-ČSL), responsible for culture. Wolf says the situation is out of the city’s hands.

“We are interested in returning guides back to trade rules. We have already given some suggestions to the Ministry for Regional Development, but so far there is no political will to change it. The city cannot do more,” Wolf said, according to daily Mladá fronta Dnes (MfD). He added that free tours also bring in money in for the city.

The Ministry for Regional Development says it has been looking into the issue but is not active at this moment.

One solution is has been looking at is returning tour guides to trade rules. Another possibility is to grant qualified guides a special title and a badge or symbol they could display so that guides who have passed tests can be distinguished from those who have not. The impacts of these measures still need to be assessed, Veronika Vároši from the communications department of the Ministry for Regional Development told MfD.

Tomio Okamura (SPD), currently deputy chairman of the Chamber of Deputies, previously was a spokesman for the Association of Czech Travel Agencies (AČCKA ). He participated in the changes to the law in 2008 and opposes changing the law again.

“If the tour guide service becomes a closed trade, it will have a number of negative effects, for example, this measure will only apply to Czech guides, so foreign guides will benefit from it. Secondly, tourism in the Czech regions will be restricted because of a lack of local guides,” Okamura said, adding that no evidence of tourists complaining about free tours has been presented.

City Councilor Jaroslava Janderová (ODS) said that the city could pass a decree requiring licensed guides in the part of Prague that is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. She intends to submit a proposal. Councilor Wolf, however, says that such a decree would not be in line with current legislation.

The Czech Tour Guides Association has a website that lists five demands concerning unlicensed guides.

First, they want a return the previous license requirements. Second, EU citizens would be subject to Czech rules, announce their activity to the local authorities and prove that professional qualifications were obtained in the home state.

Third, there should be a single central register of qualified guides, both Czech and foreign.

Fourth, areas of extraordinary importance in the Czech Republic such as UNESCO World Heritage Sites would require licensed, professional guides.

And fifth, effective control mechanisms to stop and sanction guides who have been acting illegally in the Czech Republic would be established.

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