Tour Association Debuts, Threatens Rivals

A newly formed tour guide association in Ratanakkiri pro­vince has engaged provincial and military police to crack down on independent tour guides, sparking outrage from established guides who claim the association has overstepped its jurisdiction and is now coercing new members to join.

A Nov 11 statement, approved by Ratanakkiri’s provincial and military police, says the Ratanakkiri’s Guide Tour Asso­ciation will award about $1.25 “for each competent police official who patrols for one hour to seek anarchic tour guides” and about $5 “for the arrest of one anarchic tour guide.”

The statement has worried Ratanakkiri’s established guides who say the association has taken on a law enforcement role and that the association is pressuring them to become members in attempt to monopolize the tourism industry in Ratanakkiri province.

Independent tour guide Nan Sitha said Monday from Ratan­akkiri province that association staff had approached him, demanding that he join and pay a tax of $5 for each tourist he guides. According to Nan Sitha, when he refused, “they said: ‘You have to.’”

“They got very angry with me,” he said. “They do not do anything for us, but they want us all to join.”

Phan Panha, another of Ratanakkiri’s independent guides, said: “It is very bad…. They form the association to make money.”

Association President Heng Vichet, a former Kompong Cham border police officer who recently moved to Ratanakkiri province, denied claims of strong-arming local guides on Monday, saying his goal is “to sustain the living standards of the weak tour guides,” who now pay commissions to hotels and guest houses.

Heng Vichet maintained that his association is a “branch” of the Ratanakkiri’s provincial tourism department and has the authority to manage tourism there.

Tranuth Sean, director of Rat­anakkiri’s tourism department, welcomed the association and its partnership with provincial and mil­itary police. In the first 10 months of 2004, approximately 11,226 tourists visited Ratan­akkiri, he said, adding that the association will help ensure their safety.

Tourism Minister Lay Prohas,  said he had never heard of the association, nor its president.

“Joining an association has to be voluntary,” he said. “I will send my people to investigate this.”

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