Fez - To take or not to take a guide, that is indeed a question most travellers ask themselves. Some never travel without booking one, as they do not have time or interest in reading up on the history and culture of the place they are visiting. Others prefer to walk around the city centers and accross the countryside all by themselves, cutting down on the expenses of their trip. Then there are those travelers (including myself) that would opt for a guide in certain countries but would not want to use their services in another one, for whatever reason.
Fez – To take or not to take a guide, that is indeed a question most travellers ask themselves. Some never travel without booking one, as they do not have time or interest in reading up on the history and culture of the place they are visiting. Others prefer to walk around the city centers and accross the countryside all by themselves, cutting down on the expenses of their trip. Then there are those travelers (including myself) that would opt for a guide in certain countries but would not want to use their services in another one, for whatever reason.
There are also many types of guides. The official ones, having studied history, geography and art, pride themselves in knowing answers to all the questions curious visitors may ask them, holding high the sign of the travel agency that hired them while walking down the narrow lines of historical city centers. Then there are the unofficial ones, or “false guides.” I knew one such guide in Prague, Czech Republic: an elderly gentleman, who would stand in front of the famous astronomical clock at the Old Town Square and watch for confused tourists who could not make sense out of what they were looking at.
After asking about their country of origin, he would go directly into explaining the history and science behind the 14th century clock, hoping that at the end of his performance, there would be, at least, a tip. And while I did not like his practice, especially when he targeted my groups, I had to admit that it was, in this case, probably a good thing. The tourists without a guide would learn a little bit about the facts of the monument that all Czechs are so proud of, while the elderly gentleman would make a bit of money and more importantly, get away from a routine, walk around in fresh air, and meet people.
Not all guides are safe however. I have met, both outside and inside Morocco individuals, that not only worked illegally in the tourism business while claiming to be guides, but also robbed or physically hurt tourists. Who is to blame when no real name or facts about the guide were ever shared? I do praise the Moroccan Tourism Ministry initiative to cut down on these incidents, which have left a bad taste in the mouth of foreign travellers in any country. Having been a tour guide for over 12 years and priding myself in my profession, I certainly do appreciate when my work interests are protected by official means. And quite recently, it has been mentioned that there are indeed positive outcomes of the new standard which outlaws any self-nominated guides to perform tours.
Yet, questions remain and the debate continues.
As someone who has guided tourist groups around and across Morocco, as a foreign guide, I am actually put in the same category with the false guides, and am in effect, not allowed to guide by myself in Morocco. Rules against foreign guides go across European cities such as Paris and Rome, where according to my knowledge they are heavily enforced, whereas in other cities, foreign guides are not banned from leading a tour group. Is a foreign guide the same as a false guide?
For the Moroccan tourism industry, there is a difference. Consequently, a locally licenced guide is hired even when they do not speak the language of say, a Czech or Polish group of tourists. Instead of letting such groups pass with their own foreign guide, the local guide is expected to join the group no later than when they begin descending from the buses in the medina. Mind you, the police or any other official body, do not tend to hang around the local guides.
Local guides, however, even if not speaking and explaining—as there is no language shared between them and the rest of the group, come quite handy for many less-experienced foreign guides. They show the way through the maze of the medina in Fes, and count the members of the group after passage through the market in Marrakesh. However, the practice of having to take a local guide does not make much sense in Rabat, where the guides “hang out“ exclusively in the Royal Palace precinct.
When I asked one of them why the rate is so much higher in Rabat than in Fes or Marrakech, expecting to hear something concerning the high prices in the Capital, I instead heard this: “You do all your shopping in the other cities.” Shopping. Yes, tourists do buy things, and part of the job of an experienced tour guide is to present arts and crafts in an interesting way to motivate them to do so, at the same time advising them on where to get the best quality items for the best price. This noble idea has, however, been reduced to the “Buy, oh tourist, so I can get a commission“ thing, which I began over the years to despise.
Is it not, however, this “commission taking” which attracts so many people to becoming false guides and hasslers? Is it not the very reason why a foreign guide with a group is not allowed to pass through the medina without an official Moroccan one to accompany him and share the commission? Forget the history, culture and art – let‘s go shopping, tourists! And while everyone likes to make money—false, foreign or official guides, spoiling the tour by visiting shops instead of sites seems to be one of the major sources of discontent among tourists visiting Morocco, as can be seen from the reviews on Trip Advisor.
A Remedy? There could hardly be one. It is in the interest of all that tourism booms, and it does so not only through bookings of hotels and tours, but also through the money tourists leave in local shops for overpriced goods. At the end of the long walk through the medina, a weary visitor does not remember the details of the history anymore anyway. What will remind them of the place for years to come will be those rugs, lights and vases collecting dust in their house. Perhaps also pictures or videos, stirring up memories. Let the ones from Morocco be only positive ones.
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