Following are some more instances of how licensed tour guides, hired through reputable companies to provide tours of sites of interest in İstanbul, have scammed friends visiting from overseas and how they try to shake down business owners.
Two friends, a mother and daughter, came to visit and because I had work obligations, they decided to hire a tour guide for day of sightseeing. I had warned them ahead of time to not allow the tour guide to take them shopping, but they found her to be so warm and engaging that at the end of their tour they agreed to visit a store she highly recommended. During their tour, the guide had told them about how difficult her life was because she was the only support her elderly parents had and that all the money she made went to pay their medical bills. At the store she took them to, one of the items she pointed out to them was a ring that she said she had wanted for a long time and was slowly putting away money to buy. However, she and the merchant stressed that it was a one-of-a-kind ring and that by the time she saved up enough money, approximately $200, it might have been sold to someone else. My friends, feeling sorry for her, decided to buy it as a gift, which she of course accepted gladly. While they were at the store, the guide also convinced them to buy a suzani, a wall hanging from Uzbekistan, telling them that it was the best price they would be able to find in the city for this item.
As to be expected, when my friends told me about their day, I knew that they had been conned. We went shopping together the next day and I took them to a different store where they found better quality suzanis for a fraction of the price they paid with the guide. I also told them that I would not be surprised if the ring they bought for the guide was back on sale at the store. Fortunately, they had taken a photo of it and after they left, I stopped by the store and indeed, this special, one-of-a-kind ring was prominently displayed in the jewelry section of the store. Perhaps the store has several of these rings, or maybe it was the very same ring that was being sold over and over in the same scam.
Other friends visiting İstanbul for the first time asked me how anyone could afford to eat out because the prices at the restaurants their licensed tour guide took them to were higher than they paid for a comparable meal in New York City. Of course, when we went out together to a local restaurant, they were shocked at the huge difference between the price we were charged and what they had previously paid before when with the guide at a similar style establishment. I told them that a tour guide friend had confided to me that guides often take clients to particular restaurants because they receive kickbacks from the owners for bringing in unsuspecting groups who can unknowingly be overcharged. This is yet one more way that tourists are fleeced by their guides.
Refusing to take commission
Unfortunately for small restaurants, this system of kickbacks results in a loss of business. One former restaurateur told me that several licensed tour guides came to her small establishment and told her that if she gave them a 25 percent commission on every order, they would bring clients to her restaurant. She refused, pointing out that her goal was to provide good meals at affordable prices and she would not raise her prices just to suit the tour guides. The result was that no guides ever brought any clients into her restaurant.
A friend who is a former shop owner in İstanbul, a popular cruise ship port, disclosed that tour guides routinely came into their small store and demanded up to 50 percent of any sale made to any person in their group, regardless of whether or not they had accompanied them. When they tried to reason with the guide, he issued a vague threat, saying he would “turn them in.” Since my friends were not engaged in any type of questionable business and everything was above board, they regarded this as just an attempt to force them into paying an exorbitant amount of money.
This same friend is fluent in English, but when licensed guides brought in groups, they always insisted that she give them the prices in Turkish and the guide would add their own fee onto the price and give their group the inflated prices in English. On one occasion, my friend refused to play along and quoted the price in English. This infuriated the guide, who told her group that the store was charging outrageously high prices and she immediately ushered them out, presumably to another store that would let the guide set her own commissions.
I have heard from friends who visit Turkey that many tour guides tell their groups that they should never shop unless the guide is with them because “Turks are untrustworthy.” This is a shocking statement for anyone to make, especially someone who is representing the country to tourists. These guides are directly responsible for spreading the feeling of distrust and discomfort that many tourists leave with. Instead of promoting the country and emphasizing the many positive aspects of Turkey and Turks, they are giving the entire population a bad name.
There are ways to try and avoid getting ripped off by tour guides. First of all, if possible, do not be lured into stores by a licensed tour guide who insists that they know all the best places. Do not let yourself be pressured into a sale. In fact, if a guide or merchant tries to pressure you into a sale, the safest bet is to walk away. Try to eat at restaurants favored by locals instead of places that seem to cater to the tourist groups.
If you have certain items in mind that you want to shop for, read up about them before you travel. If you have time, shop for comparisons and evaluate prices and quality. To avoid the tour guide scams, consider hiring a personal shopper to accompany you. Always trust your intuition -- if something seems wrong, it is.
Although taking advantage of tourists is a practice found around the world, it still is not right. The warmth and generosity that Turks are known for just flies out the window because of this type of behavior. Every time a tour guide takes hefty commissions or steers groups to restaurants that they know will gladly overcharge, the image of the country is tarnished. It is time that the authorities in charge of regulating the tourist industry step in and put controls in place to stop such behavior. Tour guides should lose their licenses for these practices and face legal action. Licensed guides who engage in these practices affect the entire tourism industry and the nation as a whole.