Handling touts in India By sdeep
One thing common to every place, which gets a lot of tourists, is touts. Experiencing touts, while traveling in India, is something you are likely to come across, especially while visiting the major tourist areas, at train stations, or at airports ... basically, any place that is frequented by tourists, both local and foreign. Multiple people may approach you, wanting to hook you up with tickets, hotel discounts, camel rides, food, hotels, and much, much more. These guys are professionals, and they are really just trying to make a living. But, they've mastered the art of the hard sell, and it's sometimes difficult to extract yourself from the "sales process". You may find even rickshaw wallahs, tongahwallahs and shikarawallahs working as touts.

So if you aren't interested in what they have to say or sell, here are some tips on how to handle them:

What Are The Touts Selling?

In short: Anything and Everything. You’ll find them at all the travel and tourism spots in India. They will offer to get you anything, at the best price, skipping ahead of queues, and better than everything else, of course.

Nervous?

Don’t be.

Touts are less concerned about invading your "personal space", which may scare some travelers to India, but the touts just want your business more than the next guy does. Be aware though that sometimes it is in their interest to lie to you. So it may come as a shock to hear that the hotel you were booked into has burnt down (but the touts conveniently have a ‘setting’ at a ‘better’ hotel), or that the railway booking office is shut (but, no worries, they can hook you up with a travel agent across the road). So, you may want to check the hotel or reservation office out for yourself rather than listen to these guys.

Should You Buy What They're Selling?

It depends. Possibly, if you do want what they have to sell, as you might find it fun to see what they’re offering. Just don’t let them bully you into going anywhere or meeting someone you don’t want to. You can live without meeting their guru, or their boss at the marble artifact shop. And you really don’t need to buy flowers as offerings for the temple or mosque you are visiting. If you walk far enough away from the site or station, you will eventually find someone who will take you where you want to go without the hassle (although haggling a fare with taxi or auto drivers may be another matter).

Also, know that at major tourist attractions, the official guides have IDs that identify them as certified guides and have more-or-less fixed rates. They’ll also hassle you, but they may be slightly more knowledgeable than the average tout, and employing them at least serves to keep the other touts away. Be aware that the smaller tourist areas are not as organized as the larger ones, and "official IDs" may not be worth more than the paper they're printed on. When in doubt, check with the local tourist office or the police for details of where official guides are available.

So, How To Handle Touts?

With civility – and humor if you can muster it. Granted, it’s hard to keep a smile on your face when 5 men are pushing and shoving and trying to grab your hand to take you to their rickshaw/restaurant/emporium/camel, but disengage.

What works nicely is if you avoid eye contact as much as possible, join your palms in a polite Namaste, and keep shaking your head as you edge your way out. Or if you’re tall enough, focus on a point above and beyond them and silently make your way to it.  

The key, though, seems to be to try and take it lightly.  And most IM-ers have found that speaking to them is not a good option. Even saying, “Nahin,” or “No, thank you,” is construed as an opening and touts will then run behind you for long distances, continuing to get in your way. Whilst others believe that a firm "No" can do the trick if you say it with confidence. Don’t worry, they will eventually get bored and move onto another unsuspecting soul.

One last option: you could make like IM-er Avril and take a picture of the people bothering you, she found that to be the best way to handle touts. Say cheese!

How do you deal with touts? Why not share your tips on what to do to shake them off.

Is your taxi driver a tout?

In some cities, some taxi drivers act as touts, and since you are in their vehicle, you are somewhat trapped into listening to their story and allowing them to take you somewhere other than you wanted. A common ruse in Delhi to get newly arrived first time travelers at the airport to go to an overpriced run down hotel. First the driver asks if you have a reservation for the hotel you have asked him to take you to. If you say no, he suggests a "better" one. If you say yes, you have a reservation, he may say that it is not possible to go there due to fire, riots, VIP roadblocks, etc. It is not uncommon for him to make a call to an associate and put you on the phone. The person at the other end claims to be from your hotel and advises you to go to another place as recommended by your driver.

The driver gets a kickback for taking you to a bad hotel that cannot get enough paying guests through the normal routes of positive reviews and word of mouth.