Tips for Dealing with Touts

| May 17, 2010 | 11 Comments
touts Tips for Dealing with Touts

Proprietors looking to increase traffic to their hostel, shop, dining establishment or other business will employ touts.

Judging by the number of times you’ll be propositioned for a massage in Cusco, Peru, you’d think that there must be a surfeit of massage therapy schools and therapists in the province. Walk a few blocks from the city’s Plaza de Armas in any direction on the compass—and you’ll walk straight into someone offering to rub you down! Cusco is no different than other large tourist centres—think Khao Sarn or Agra, or Cairo and Marrakesh—where touts are ubiquitous. After a while, you begin to feel that your destination is not really a country so much as a giant machine designed to extract money from you.

To most people, touts are seen an annoyance—they routinely get yelled at and told off. But to their families, they are the source of a meagre income. And to a local economy in a developing nation, they are just a cog in a giant machine of tips, commissions and bribes that makes the industry go round.

Following our travels through Asia, Kathryn and I had become so attuned to touts and scams that we remained wary, even after returning home. In fact—Kathryn’s wariness almost ruined my planned proposal to her several years ago.

How to Deal with Touts and (Almost) Ruin a Marriage Proposal

Shortly after we’d begun dating, we travelled to New York City for the first time together. As we dated, the city became a place that we would return to with increasing regularity—and we developed a great affection for it. Hence, I decided that Central Park would serve as a great place to propose.

When the day arrived, I planned to lure Kathryn to the park under the pretence that we were meeting a friend—one who would invariably not show up. Unbeknownst to Kathryn, I had arranged for a ‘tout’ to approach us and offer a horse-drawn carriage ride. The plan was to take a carriage through the park before pausing in front of Cherry Hill’s fountain long enough for me to pop the question. On the way, I’d arranged for the driver to bring along a bottle of champagne.

The ride didn’t exactly turn out as planned—but Kathryn’s actions served to properly illustrate what one should do when dealing with a tout. Despite the fact that I had secretly arranged payment in advance, Kathryn insisted that we negotiate a price before getting into the carriage—a habit that served us well when dealing with taxi drivers and tuk tuk touts in Chiang Mai. Luckily, the driver went along with the negotiation. After settling on a price, Kathryn suggested that we get a couple of other quotes from competing drivers. It was only after I convinced her that it wouldn’t be necessary did she get in the carriage.

Shortly after the ride began, I reached under our seat to retrieve a bottle of champagne—just where I’d arranged for the driver to hide it. Before I had a chance to pop the cork, Kathryn again insisted that I ask how much the bottle would cost us. Luckily, our driver again played along and reassured her that it was included in the price.

When the carriage stopped well short of our agreed upon hour ride—Kathryn reluctantly climbed down from the cab. She was disappointed that the ride had stopped and wanted to know what was going on.

It was then I dropped to a knee and proposed—the rest, as they say, is Two Go Round-The-World history. And as much as I tease her about it, Kathryn’s actions perfectly illustrate the steps that one must take to mitigate the risk when dealing with touts. Always remain diligent—even when you fiancé is doing his best to propose to you.

A Few Highly ‘Touted’ Tips

Kathryn and I have assembled a few tips from here and there on how to deal with touts:

  1. Tip 1 — Be polite but firm. Smile—but only once. Don’t make the mistake of shaking hands or answering the question of where you are from. Be polite, but firm, explicit and unambiguous. If you feel you’re getting thrown a pitch—cut it short with ‘Sorry, no thank you’. And if you get frustrated, don’t lose your temper. Remember—acting rudely may offend somebody nearby that would never think of bothering you.
  2. Tip 2 — Everybody’s got an uncle—and he wants to sell you something. Just remember that there’s no such thing as a free lunch. Offers of a free cup of chai will invariably turn into pitches to purchase a Persian rug. Art students in Tiananmen Square will invite you back to their ‘studio’—just to ‘have a look’. If you’re new to the tourist trail, touts will see you coming from a mile away. Remember — this is just a ‘pitch’ — the act may be convincing, but at the end of the day it’s still an act. Sometimes it’s heartbreaking to have to say ‘no’ to someone who looks like they could desperately use your money. If you feel compelled to donate, it’s best to do so at a church or temple, where your money is more likely to get into the hands of those who need it. Avoid donating to touts who claim they are collecting for charity—even if they an identity card. Despite their seemingly plausible stories—they are usually nothing more than con men.
  3. Tip 3 — Book ahead. If you’re arriving in the evening in a major tourist destination, it’s worth making a reservation with a hostel or guesthouse before you arrive. Your guide book will likely offer up a few phone numbers—or you can book a place online through hostelbookers.com or HostelWorld. And remember, don’t stay at the first place listed in your guidebook — as others have said, it’s full of people too lazy to read past the first entry! Suck it up and book ahead — even if you have to pay a little more for your first night in town.

Conclusion

As soon as you step outside the airport in any given destination, a crowd of people will approach: tuk tuk and auto rickshaw drivers, taxi drivers, hotel touts and beggars all want a little bit of your coin. You’ll begin to feel a little like chum in a shark tank. It’s a hassle, but remember — you are dealing with people who are desperately trying to make a living in a developing country.

Taking the time to learn a few key words and phrases (ie “No thank you”) in the local language can also go a long way and is appreciated by the local people—including the touts. Remember, no matter how annoying these interactions are—you are representing your country and your culture. This is a chance for them to learn about how you handle yourself under pressure. A little bit of patience and a sense of humour goes a long way in coping with such situations.

What are your techniques for dealing without touts? Any good stories? Sound off in the comments section below. With your permission, we’ll include some of your suggestions in a future follow-up post. Thanks in advance! There’s a good discussion going on over at BootsnAll entitled “Best Method for Dealing With Touts“. As always, the Booties give excellent advice.


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About the Author ()

For nearly ten years now, Daniel of Two Go Round-The-World has explored how travel captures our imagination and engages our deepest emotions. One half of the duo that maintains the widely read Two Go Round-The-World blog, Daniel treats his subjects not only as works of art but also as symbols of the cultural and political forces that inspire them. Check him out on Google+.

Comments (11)

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  1. Jessica says:


    I sometimes pretend that I can’t speak English to get them to leave me alone, but this tactic failed spectacularly in Varanasi last year. My friend and I were getting frustrated with all of the touts along the ghats, so she switched to Spanish to explain that she couldn’t understand. But when the next tout came along and overheard her Spanish, he switched over, too! They ended up having a great conversation about how he had learned Spanish from other tourists — but she still didn’t buy anything!

  2. JoAnna says:


    My main tip: If you’ll be in the same area for awhile, make friends with them. If you always buy from them or ride in their van, then they stop harassing you and, after awhile, protect you from others who do.

  3. Gray says:


    That is a great story, Daniel! Good thing the driver played along. And good advice as well. I’m pretty good at saying “no” to people trying to sell me something, but not so good at negotiating down in price when I do want something. Guess I need some practice at that.


  4. I’ve tried the not speaking English trick too, pretending, in halting English, to only speak Dutch. The smirking tout was only too happy to point out the sign above the door that read ‘We speak Dutch’.

  5. Ryan & Liz says:


    Great tips guys! We’ll be sure to use a few of these along the way.

  6. Europeeno says:


    When you arrive at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport, you’ll be besieged by taxi touts offering you overpriced rides. Make sure you get to the Public Taxi stands to get a properly priced taxi into Bangkok.

  7. Jill says:


    Agressive touts can be soo intimidating. Before we arrive anywhere we think would have this problem, we’d either figure out a way to get pick up service from the hostel, or learn beforehand where the public taxi stand is located. That way we won’t look too lost when we get there…


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