“Licensed guides can sign up for a wider spectrum of professional development courses, which include the teaching of soft skills like story-telling and interpersonal skills” (Initiatives To Help Tour Guides Remain Relevant, Melissa Lin).
In its bid to help licensed tour guides remain relevant – through “a wider spectrum of professional development courses”, long service and quality awards presented “at an annual award ceremony from next year”, as well as grants to further train and market the skills of the guides (ST, Aug. 21) – the government taskforce appears to have neglected the advent of the Internet, and how it has disrupted the tourism sector. It goes beyond the “use of technology to market the services” of the tour guides, suggested by Mr. Howard Lim of the Society of Tourist Guides (Singapore), and should include analyses of how digitisation has empowered the tourist to bypass traditional services, regardless of the soft skills, awards, or marketable experience the tour guide might have.
This government taskforce comprises of the Singapore Workforce Development Agency, Employment and Employability Institute, and the Singapore Tourism Board.
In this vein, assessment of the status quo is necessary. And there is scant evidence that the proposed endeavours will benefit the tour guides. Well-informed visitors would have gathered information – through online resources or guidebooks – beforehand, which are often free-of-charge. The tour guides speak of their experience and ability “to be relevant to the tourists”, but ignore the fact that such details can be crowdsourced by individuals on the Internet based on their own preferences. Tech startups have also designed products which sync itineraries or customise travel plans based on a few parameters, or link travellers with locals who could offer these services too.
Free walking tours – a few of which are already offered in Singapore – is sustained through tips from participants who decide on the quality of the tour. Perhaps beyond the enhancement of soft skills or agency-endorsed awards, user-generated reviews and ratings may be more convincing. And with greater competition these aggregated assessments create incentives for tour guides to design their offerings more deliberately too. Support from the government taskforce may be a convenient crutch for the short-run, yet in the future the tour guides must craft their own niches in a digital context.
A version of this article was published in The Straits Times.