Fast-track Tour-guide Program for Chinese Raises Ire in Israel

Local guides are worried that Israeli tour companies will opt for foreign guides at lower prices.

A plan to provide fast-track training for Chinese tour guides has stoked strong opposition from their Israeli counterparts, even though Israel currently needs around 50 more Mandarin-speaking guides.

To address the increasing flow of Chinese tourists, the Tourism Ministry will provide a special five-month program; normally such training takes two years. The ministry said this solution follows failed efforts to address the shortage, including half-scholarships for foreigners.

“This is not the granting of a tour-guide license as defined by law, but a temporary permit for a specific type of tourism,” the Tourism Ministry said. Israeli guides said the ministry’s proposal wouldn’t help the local tourism industry much.

“Based on experience, abbreviated, rapid training creates a limited and unsuitable tourism product,” the chairman of the Israel Tourist Guide Association, Yaacov Mitrani, wrote to Tourism Minister Uzi Landau. “This is one reason we have not drawn significant numbers of tourists from Korea and Japan.”

Mitrani suggested that for now Chinese tourists use Israeli tour guides accompanied by translators. Meanwhile, Chinese-speaking guides would complete the two-year program.

Chinese-speaking Israeli guides told TheMarker they were worried that Israeli tour companies would opt for foreign guides at lower prices.

In any case, Chinese speakers have also been permitted to waive the requirement that they have an academic degree before pursuing tour-guide studies. Israeli tour guides who speak Chinese below fluency can get a 70% grant to improve their language skills.

The abbreviated program will be operated by the Tourism Ministry in conjunction with the University at Haifa’s tourism school.

In 2012, China became the largest market for outgoing tourism in the world. Some 95 million tourists are expected to travel from China by the end of this year.

Between January and October this year, 20,294 Chinese tourists visited Israel, a 24% increase over the same period last year. The director general of the Tourism Ministry, Amir Halevy, said the ministry’s goal for 2014 was 40,000.

Michal Fattal