The police are having an uphill task in putting down the tout menace at the World Heritage site of Sigiriya as a group of some 45 persons armed with questionable guide licences continue to pester visitors to the area.
“This group argue that their members have the right to do what they are doing because they are in possession of a tour licence issued by a female.
official at the local Provincial Council in return for a fee, Sigiriya OIC Vajira Atapattu said.
They are an unscrupulous lot and there are fears that one thing could lead to another and even end up with the purveying of narcotics, alcohol and other vices,” he warned.
He added that there were some 123 Guides operating in the region, but apart from these 45 persons, the rest were in the possession of the proper licence issued by the Tourist Board in Colombo and we have zero problems with them.
“Furthermore we have received dozens of complaints from visitors and others about these touts but there is little we can do since they are in possession of this licence issued by the Provincial Council,” he said.
Upali Ratnayake, Director of Standard Quality Assurance at the Tourism Board, said that not a single regional Government body, Provincial Council or otherwise, is authorized to issue such licences.
He said it was only the Tourist Board that is the issuing authority of Tour Guide Licences and there is a set of rules to be followed before an individual is eligible to obtain one.
“This is a very sensitive job when it comes to dealing with foreign visitors because it is the country and the tourist industry that has to be promoted at all times during the tour.
“Therefore the Guides are expected to have a certain degree of knowledge in foreign languages and the cultural and geographical history of the country among other issues that will have to be explained to the foreign visitors.
“But when some half-baked Tour Guides or whatever they choose to call themselves, with zero knowledge of the country’s history take on the task of enlightening the visitors, one could imagine the damage being done to the tourism industry,” Mr. Ratnayake added.
He said these questionable Tour Guide licences were being issued only in the Central Province despite several directives from Colombo to put an end to it.
Central Province Chief Minister Sarath Ekanayake told the Sunday Times said he was not aware of this licence issue and promised to look into the matter at the earliest.
“However I am aware that there are some tourism and hotel-related courses currently being carried out by the local council but the issuing of guide licences is nowhere in that frame,” he said.