Online dictionaries describe touts as people who “solicit customers, votes, or patronage, especially in a brazen way.” Simply put, they’re the people that harass you as you step off a bus and claim to know the best hostels in Central London – and when you arrive you discover it’s a 30 minute tube ride downtown.
Why do they bug you and insist that you stop in the next shop, or visit their uncle’s restaurant? Money is the simple motivating factor. Proprietors looking to increase traffic to their hostel, shop, dining establishment or other business will employ touts. If a tout brings in a customer, he or she will receive a monetary reward. The deals vary, but are usually based on a flat ‘finders fee’ plus commission based on whatever the traveler buys.
Not all touts stand on the street and shout at travelers. Taxi and other transportation drivers, hotel and hostel concierge and even tourism employees can get kickbacks. Be wary of overwhelming endorsements or recommendations and if you do not want to be taken for a ride, strongly refuse any suggestion to stop off at a local gem shop or a Paris hostel you didn’t plan on visiting.
Also, do not allow yourself to get caught up in the moment and focus on the ‘only for you’ deals that might be offered by a tout. I recall traveling with 3 other backpackers and being solicited on a train outside of Budapest. We had not arranged accommodation and were given a good price on a room. The map we looked at had no scale and we ended up being quite a ways away from the both public transportation and the city – but we had already paid and were too timid to demand the money back and find another place.
One other thing of note – be wary of people, especially drivers, who warn you that your popular tourist attraction is closed due to flooding, remodeling, or an obscure national holiday. Most of the time, they are just looking to take you to various shops and charge you for the long ride instead.
If you do decide to use the services of the tout, do not allow money to leave your hand until you are fully satisfied with your room/tour/purchase/etc.