The 90-odd ‘approved tourist guides’ (ATGs) in Calcutta, certified by the Union government, are peeved at being left out of the 39th annual convention of the Federation of Hotel & Restaurant Associations of India (FHRAI), to be held in the city this week (November 7 to 9).
“We are extremely upset to note that representatives of city-based ATGs, who are very much a part and parcel of the tourism industry, were not invited to attend the prestigious hospitality summit, even as members of the audience,” Diptimoy Ghosh, executive committee member of the Tourist Guides Association of Calcutta, told Metro.
The association lamented that in spite of coming in direct contact with foreign tourists and having to take sundry “professional hazards” in their stride, the guides’ lot remains a pitiful one. The business is plagued by perennial financial insecurity, vagaries of the seasons, an ever-shrinking assignment pie and apathy on the part of the authorities and the industry alike, it said.
“We have to get through a strenuous three-month course before obtaining a licence from the central tourism department as approved tourist guides. But not even 20 of the 96 approved guides in Calcutta are in business round the year. Still, we are not technically allowed to pursue other avenues of income,” complained Shubhankar Sengupta, member of the city association.
If travel agents and tour operators could be part of the deliberation and interface at the national convention, so could tourist guides, argued Ghosh. “Without us, the wheel of the tourism industry is not complete,” he added.
FHRAI president S.K. Khullar, when contacted, said the federation would “surely consider” the tourist guides’ case and “try to accommodate” them in the proceedings of the convention.
The city tourist guides’ association, licensed to operate in Bihar, Jharkhand, Orissa and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands outside the state, had submitted a presentation to state tourism minister Dinesh Dakua in July 1999, aimed at augmenting tourist traffic. “We suggested that West Bengal be divided into two tourism zones — one comprising Calcutta, Bishnupur and Santiniketan and the other, the Sunderbans,” said an association office-bearer.
A structured blueprint to systematically upgrade infrastructure in these two zones was incorporated in the presentation. But there has been no response from the state tourism department, the guides complain. In the same year, the association organised the national convention of tourist guides in the city, with a presentation, titled ‘Snow to Sea’, showcasing the tourism potential of the state.
“In spite of our undeniable contribution to the tourism industry and our role as cultural ambassadors to the state, we have scarcely received the recognition we deserve,” Ghosh observed. The association is compiling a directory of all approved guides in the city for the benefit of the tourists.