by Trung Hieu & Dieu Linh
Nguyen Thuy Loan from Dong Da District in Ha Noi recalled a holiday when her family joined a river tour in a western province and their guide proposed a singing game to entertain his clients.
She said that when a client sang songs with self-made taboo or jocular lyrics, the guide did not stop him but even supported him: "Please sing more such songs, I love it so much! I love listening to these songs, and I think when unmarried women hear them they will love you too, because people prefer men like you who live a liberal life!"
"One sang and the other responded, and they used many offensive words," Loan recalled.
During a tour, the guide plays an important role in making a good impression on the tourists.
But sometimes, certain gestures of the guides are not polite, causing visitors to feel annoyed.
Inappropriate words and actions on the part of the guides cause their clients to complain.
Some guides also do not understand much about the country's history and culture.
A tour guide of Travel Company X was leading a group of tourists from Ha Noi to HCM City, and while travelling on Ho Chi Minh Highway some overseas Vietnamese tourists asked the guide to lead them to Tam Co Cave (Cave of Eight Girls) in Quang Binh Province.
This site was not included in the schedule, so the guide did not have the time to update information about it.
As she was slightly embarrassed, the guide quickly created a diversion by telling a long story about the nation's great resistance wars and also spoke about the contribution of heroic women in these wars.
She said Viet Nam had a lot of places famous for such heroic sacrifices, for example ten women volunteers sacrificed their lives at Dong Loc T-junction in Ha Tinh Province during the anti-American war and this cave where other women volunteers died.
Many visitors, including some overseas Vietnamese, shed tears on hearing this touching story.
Viet Nam tourism industry needs more tour guides who have both devotion and skill.
When lecturer Trinh Le Anh from the Tourism Faculty of Ha Noi National University led his students during an internship trip, he encountered a funny situation when a beautiful and graceful tour guide who spoke English very fluently explained to visitors that the kylin statue at temples and pagodas is a "buffalo".
When her clients asked why the statue of a buffalo was located at the front of temples and pagodas, the guide replied, "Since Viet Nam has a wet rice civilization, buffaloes are considered very important. So, it is very normal to see the buffalo at temples and pagodas."
Anh said he felt disappointed with her explanation.
"After listening to her, I felt extremely confused. What I fear most is that if her story is remembered by foreign guests and retold in their countries, a mascot like the kylin will become a normal animal and a friend of peasants. That guide was beautiful and fluent in English, even very talkative, but she did not have knowledge about the national culture," Anh remarked.
Nguyen Viet Linh, who was trained in foreign languages, has cultural, historical and geographic knowledge and has been a tour guide with the Asian Tour travel agency for more than 15 years, said sadly, "The guides are not superman and so may not know something. This is nothing to be ashamed of.
"However, as guides do not want clients to ridicule them, some often create a diversion by explaining questions and even suggesting to the clients to take pictures or buy souvenirs in order to avoid talking."
Lecturer Anh noted that the training of tour guides in Viet Nam was not very professional. Each unit has their own method of training, and training time is different so the guides' skills are also very different. Most guides learn to have a licence to practise their trade rather than consider it a career that needs them to be professional.
"This is very dangerous because the tourism sector is an interface of many other fields such as culture, arts and foreign affairs. Previously, we considered tourism a key economic sector, so we attached a lot of importance to making money. We are not aware that, in order to have a sustainable development, we need fundamental factors such as education and proper investment," he added.
Director of a travel agency in the Russian Federation, Tran Minh Phuong, who has worked for many years in the international travel field, said, "We seem to focus only on the figures, such as how many international tourists arrive in Viet Nam, and we focus on hotels, tours and services, but we still don't give the necessary importance to human interest factors. Foreign visitors, after visiting Viet Nam, often complain about the service quality of the tourism industry, especially about the guides."
He said, according to incomplete statistics, half of the licences given to tour guides to practise their trade are just "temporary" cards. The others operate primarily in particular seasons, mostly to serve domestic tourists.
Some guides have studied and lived abroad for a long time, hence their knowledge of geography, history and culture of the homeland is still limited.
Talking about the young guides' competence, a veteran tour guide of the Ha Noi Red Tours travel agency, Tran Quoc Hung, said the number of tour guides in Viet Nam is excessive while the quality is lacking.
"If needed, we can mobilise 50 guides at once, but it is not easy to find a single guide qualified enough to manage a group of tourists who want to travel all the way through Viet Nam,"he said.
The story about the guides' competence and the return of international visitors is something that people talk about time and again.
However, the answer to the problem has still not been found, though a lot of measures are being proposed to popularise the tourism industry, such as electing a tourism ambassador and choosing a slogan and symbolic object.
Nguyen Thuy Huyen, a guide at the same travel agency, said the guide's role is extremely important for the success of a tour.
"Therefore, we must be self-conscious, willing to please clients but should know how to stop at the right time and turn jokes and conversation into funny but meaningful and interesting stories.
"Always think twice before speaking to avoid missed words so we may create a good impression on the clients," she added. — VNS