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Tour guides plan sit-in outside ministry to press demands

By Bahaa Al Deen Al Nawas - Jun 26,2019 - Last updated at Jun 26,2019

AMMAN — The Jordan Tourism Guides Association (JTGA) will hold a sit-in Wednesday at 12:30pm in front of the Ministry of Tourism to list its “decade-old” demands. 

The association has been trying to “cooperate” with the Tourism Ministry to draft a “clear” by-law that regulates and organises the work of tour guides, “but the association is always left out of legislation and we feel marginalised as if we are not partners with the ministry at all,” JTGA President Raed Abdelhaq told The Jordan Times on Tuesday over the phone. 

The ministry has “repeatedly ignored” the demands and suggestions of the association, according to Abdelhaq and the association’s administrative assembly.

The most recent indication of this is the ministry’s decision a few months ago to lower the tour guide admission test’s minimum required grade from 80 per cent to 75 per cent.

The association did not approve the decision as it would mean there will be guides with low performance and language abilities, who, nonetheless, would be working with those who had to get at least 80 per cent and have been "working hard" on improving their skills, Abdelhaq said.

The Ministry of Tourism worked on its own to amend the by-law on tour guides and the by-law on the association itself, without consulting the JTGA whatsoever, and the JTGA by-law included articles that relieve adventure tourism guides from having to acquire any education degree or even second-language skills, he claimed, wondering how can a guide with no language skills at least could communicate with tourists. 

The administrative assembly of the JTGA considered this to be an “encroachment on the rights of other capable guides”, who will most probably be represented by those with lesser skills and eligibility, “which could ruin the overall image of tour guides in the Kingdom”, he said.

The ministry recently worked on creating e-guides through mobile apps as well, which were launched in Petra, without regard for the unemployment rate of the already existing guides in the sector, and this was more damaging, according to the association president. 

“If the ministry is convinced something is going to work, it does it without consulting partners,” he said, noting that many tour guides in Jordan have extensive language knowledge and vast understanding of other cultures, and "they can contribute to improving the sector from within as they are all ambassadors who represent Jordan”. 

“We are holding the sit-in as a reaction only, we simply ask for our rights and require that the ministry commit to laws and regulations,” Abdelhaq said, adding “when the sector was damaged for many years since 2011 because of the issues in the region, we understood that this was out of control and did not complain or stage sit-ins, but now that tourism is picking up, we need to stop being marginalised.” 

For his part, Mohammad Abu Aqel, who worked as a tour guide for most of his life, said that the demands of tour guides and the association are not recent, but have been there for over 10 years. 

“Every time the same thing happens, we get audience with officials in the Tourism Ministry, discuss our demands and issues, receive promises, and then nothing happens,” Abu Aqel said. 

Tour guides’ minimum fees or wages are not clearly set, and most of them work with tourism agencies without a contract, which means their rights are not protected, the guide said, noting that there needs to be clear rules and regulations that protect the rights of not only the guides but also the agencies. 

“I would like to stress the ministry ‘refuses’ to listen to our demands, the demands of the association and many other tourism partners and stakeholders, which means all the basic tourism components, so to speak, complain about the ministry not treating them as partners,” he said.

He added that lowering the eligibility test grade from 80 to 75 might “seem normal” but the 5 per cent make a difference as the association’s general assembly holds “refresher courses” to improve the newcomers’ skills, and the decision imposes even more burdens as new guides with even lower skills are being integrated. 

The Jordan Times attempted to contact the Tourism Ministry during official working hours but was not able to reach any official to comment on the issue. 

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