The British Guild of Tourist Guides has hailed a ruling by the Advertising Standards Authority to ban the misleading use of the word ‘free’ by companies offering guided walks.
The guild warns that tourists are at risk of “being exploited by unscrupulous operators offering attractive sounding ‘free’ tours that may turn out to be anything but”.
The ASA advice clarifies and restricts potentially misleading advertising using the word ‘free’ to ensure that customers know how ‘guides’ are remunerated.
Mark King (pictured), guild chairman, said: “The British Guild of Tourist Guides has fought for more than two years on behalf of its members, alongside reputable guided walks operators, to challenge this increasingly prevalent and misleading form of marketing and dubious ‘gig economy’ employment practices.
“The ASA has now recognised that these walks are not ‘free’.
“The guild has been concerned by the cynical exploitation of such an attractive-sounding inducement to promote walks in our most popular tourist cities – an offer that has, thanks to comprehensive research by the ASA, now been shown to be misleading.
“Unqualified, self-employed ‘guides’ leading these walks typically have no recognised professional guiding qualification or safety training.
“They are at risk of being exploited by companies that charge a ‘marketing fee’ to provide clients. This has to be funded from the so-called guide’s sometimes meagre tip.”
David Tucker, owner of London Walks, added: “I am delighted by the ASA’s ruling. You can’t redefine the word ‘free’ or the word ‘tips’.
“In a single bound after June 28 – the end of the period of grace in this matter – consumers are going to be free of misleading advertising in this sector.”
Richard Jones, London Blue Badge tourist guide and operator of Discovery Tours & Events, commented: “Free tours are a great idea, so long as they are free. The problem has been that the guides working for companies have to pressurise the client to pay as much as they can in order to make a living.
“Hopefully, this important ruling will ensure that clients who are expecting a free tour, get a free tour and not two hours of hard sell.”
The guild highlighted that its members are self-employed professional guides, who meet rigorous training standards set by the Institute of Tourist Guiding, the industry’s officially recognised standard-setting body.