Freelance tour guides struggle to benefit from government relief package

By Nguyen Quy, Le Tuyet, Hong Chieu   July 24, 2021 | 10:00 pm PT
Freelance tour guides struggle to benefit from government relief package
A tour guide leads a group of foreign tourists in downtown HCMC, 2019. Photo by VnExpress/Phong Vinh.
Though the government put tour guides on the list of beneficiaries of a new VND26 trillion ($1.13 billion) Covid relief package, many have been disqualified due to strict requirements.

Under the government resolution issued earlier this month on the second pandemic relief package to help poor individuals and businesses hit by Covid-19, tour guides are entitled to receive VND3.71 million each.

To access the financial support, they are required to show their valid tour guide licenses granted prior to May 1, 2021 and a labor contract with travel a firm valid from Jan. 1, 2020 to the date of application.

Freelance tour guides mainly engaged in contracts valid one to 10 days would not be able to access the financial support package.

Ho Phuong Duy, a freelance tour guide at a Ho Chi Minh City travel company, told VnExpress International travel firms have two kinds of contracts – long-term and short-term with pay per tour.

"Most freelance tour guides are hired to work under short-term labor contracts, only valid for no more than 10 days. After completing tours, guides have to return their labor contracts to travel firms to be paid," he said.

Specializing in inbound tours, Duy only signed short-term contracts with travel firms and was out of a job since March 2020 as Vietnam closed its border to foreign tourists and suspended all international flights.

"With up to 90 percent of travel firms in Vietnam having suspended operations after nearly two years and four waves of Covid outbreaks, how could tour guides obtain valid labor contracts," he lamented.

Duy, who now works as a shipper with an income of VND250,000 a day, had been waiting for a long time to receive government support but with such strict requirements, all of his hopes have been dashed.

Facing the same fate, Huynh Thanh Chuc, 29, who used to freelance in HCMC and specialized in short tours, felt disappointed after learning he had been disqualified from receiving financial aid.

Two weeks ago, his friends told him to watch the announcement on government support on TV. Chuc quickly found out how to apply and planned to give an amount of the subsidy to his parents.

Everything was not as easy as he had imagined. Reading about needing a labor contract as of Jan. 1, 2020 or gaining a membership card from a tour guide association, Chuc knew he had been eliminated from the start.

Chuc has a tour guide card valid until June 2023 and dozens of contracts signed by travel agencies. But all are short-term.

He explained only big companies could afford long-term tour guides who receive monthly salaries and would be covered with compensation and benefit packages while small firms are only capable of hiring freelancers.

The tour guide had returned home in the central Binh Thuan Province since he could not afford rent in HCMC, epicenter of the ongoing outbreak where most business establishments and tourism services have been suspended.

"I hope HCMC will soon control the new wave so I can go back to work," Chuc said.

Chuc (R) helps his mother knit nets in his hometown in Binh Thuan Province, July 2021. Photo by VnExpress/An Phuong.

Huynh Thanh Chuc (R) helps his mother knit nets in his hometown in Binh Thuan Province, July 2021. Photo by VnExpress/An Phuong.

A representative of a travel business in Hanoi said the largest barrier preventing tour guides from accessing financial support was the abundance of short-term labor contracts.

According to data from the Vietnam National Administration of Tourism, by 2020, Vietnam had 28,000 tour guides but only 10 percent had signed long-term contracts with travel firms, with the remaining 90 percent working freelance.

"With the current requirements, the number of tour guides eligible for support is extremely small," the representative said.

The HCMC Department of Tourism has petitioned the government to simplify procedures so freelance tour guides with short-term contracts could receive aid.

Duy hopes the government would create favorable conditions for all tour guides to receive financial support.

Vietnam’s tourism industry experienced one of the most difficult periods in its history last year when Covid-19 slashed the number of foreign arrivals by nearly 79 percent to 3.8 million.

Industry revenues plunged nearly 56 percent to VND17.9 trillion as flights were canceled and people became reluctant to travel due to fears of contracting the novel coronavirus.

A report by Vietnam Tourism Association revealed up to 90 percent of tourism companies are in dire straits. Most have had to let their employees stay home without pay, the report added.

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