Vietnam Tour guides can be considered ambassadors of a nation, because they transmit knowledge give an impression, good or bad, about the destination country. Tour guides work at the front-line in direct contact with tourists. Therefore, besides the compulsory requirement of mastering foreign languages and have a deep background knowledge, people must be passionate about travel to pursue this job.
Those outside this career tend to see guiding tourists as glamorous, easy work because guides can travel, visit attractions all over the country, meet rich tourists, stay at luxury hotels and have a high income. However, this appearance can be deceiving, since being a tour guide is truly a difficult job. Normally on Tet or other holidays when families gather together happily, a tour guide has to be working. When guests have already had their meal or even gone to bed, the tour guide is still busy making arrangements for the guests to continue the tour the next day. This is not to say that being a tour guide has no advantages. Tour guides do have a high income in our society nowadays. The Vietnam Travel Company said they pay English speaking tour guidesUS$20 /day, Chinese US$25 /day, French and Japanese- US$30 /day. Most international tourism companies pay tour guides at around this rate, and even more for languages like Spanish, Italian and Korean.
The rapid development of important markets like Japan, Korea, and Russia in recent times has led to the lack of tour guides. According to statistics of the Vietnam National Administration of Tourism, there are some 6,000 recognized professional tour guides in the country. There are some languages that have less than 10 tour guides with professional cards, like Bulgarian. The lack of tour guides (often in high season from October to April of the next year) has created many problems for managing and planning Vietnam travel development.
To overcome the shortage of tour guides, many companies use non-professional tour guides from foreign language universities or people who have worked for international organizations. However, guide quality cannot be assured because non-professionals were not trained for tourism and do not have all the information related to tourism activities. To successfully guide one group of tourists, the tour guide must not only master a foreign language, have professional knowledge and know the places tourists will visit along the tour route, but also have thorough knowledge of the geography, culture, society, history, customs and lifestyle of each region and basic knowledge of the country of their guests. At the same time, standing in front of international tourists, a tour guide is like a diplomat on behalf of the nation to welcome guests.
Employing non-professional tour guides can solve the immediate problem of having a tour guide, however, tourism companies will be in danger of being penalized for using guides without a card. Under tourism law, tour guides must have a guide card and a contract with a tourism company. Because of the danger of being penalized, some tourism companies attempt to skirt the law by hiring a professional tour guide to accompany the group to deal with authorities, while the actual guiding thereafter is done by someone else, often an expat from the same country as the tourists. In some cases, authorities know what is being done, but they cannot stop it. This not only increases costs for businesses, but also affects the experience of visitors, because foreign tour guides cannot understand Vietnamese culture as thoroughly as a native guide. That is not mention the potential distortion of the image of the country and Vietnamese people, and more seriously the information provided could prejudice nation sovereignty, national security, order and safety of society.
There are now about 40 tourism training schools nationwide. Thousands of students graduate every year, many of whom become tour guides, but in general many of these students are not capable of working as tour guides immediately because they lack real experience and their foreign language ability insufficient for the task. The leader of one travel agency said when lacking tour guides, they often take interns to act as guides, but few students can do the job immediately. Students who graduated from foreign language universities assure the ability of foreign language but lack tourism knowledge. Therefore, in order to have a full team of tour guides, companies have to train them for their specific needs after hiring them, especially in high season. The unfortunate truth is that most foreign language teachers do not have much tourism knowledge, and tourism teachers lack foreign language ability. Furthermore, once being issued cards, the business pays little attention to retraining to improve the skills of tour guides, because there is no replacement for the person in training. This is one deficiency in the training process which the Vietnam travel sector needs measures to solve.