SHARJAH // Tour guides in Sharjah will have to take a training course to learn about the emirate's history and culture in future.
Previously, tour company staff were not required to have qualifications - but as the emirate's popularity as a tourist destination has increased, the authority has insisted on licences and trained guides.
Mohammed Al Noman, the chairman of the Sharjah Commerce and Tourism Development Authority, said the training lead to a certificate accredited by the University of Sharjah.
Mr Al Noman said guides were the first point of contact for tourists and offered a lasting impression of a destination.
He added: "Our aim is to boost and enrich the tourism sector with professional expertise by organising such courses.
"The idea is to train tourist guides by providing them with the necessary cultural understanding of the emirate and the UAE."
About 70 professional tour guides have taken the 11-day training course so far and are now certified by the tourism authority.
The latest batch includes 18 people from nine nationalities: Syrian, German, Chinese, Russian, Indian, Sri Lankan, Polish, Brazilian and Colombian.
Alya Al Raeesi, an Emirati tour guide with the authority, is taking part in her first on-the-job training since graduating.
"I have had several requests since I started work this year," Ms Al Raeesi said. "Many tourists, especially families, would prefer to use an Emirati female guide to get the real story of our Emirati culture."
Renatto Mello, a Brazilian guide with Reem Tours, said most of the tourists he worked with from South America were used to dressing less conservatively than was expected in the UAE. When asked to cover up on their way to Sharjah, many were shocked.
"When we ask them to cover their legs and shoulders, some say that they have not worn so many clothes for a long time," Mr Mello said. "But as we explain to them that they are in the UAE to experience another culture, they quickly accept it without any objections."
Sharjah has had a boom in tourist numbers in recent years, and has invested heavily in attractions such as museums and art fairs to pull in more visitors.
Amton Postnikov, a Russian guide with Desert Adventures, said Russian tourists were told of the dress code and prohibited behaviour before leaving their country.
Mr Postnikov said his job as a guide was to repeat the message. All of the Russian tourists he had worked with respected the cultural differences, he said.
Christian Uglean, a Romanian working with Gulf Ventures, said the course had widened his knowledge of Sharjah and helped to discredit some of the myths circulating on the internet.
"All peoples have a culture and all people will respect other cultures once the differences are well explained," Mr Uglean said.