What Are Touts in India?

If you’re planning a trip to India, you may have heard the word “tout” and aren’t sure what that means. I know before I started my long-term travels, I wasn’t sure what it meant, so what are touts in India?

A tout is a person who solicits your business on the street, often in an aggressive or pushy manner. “To tout” is also a verb meaning to sell something in an aggressive way. India has a lot of touts, but they are found in many countries, especially at tourist destinations.

In India, it can be challenging to identify, who is a tout? And who is a friendly local? Many successful touts try to befriend you in the same way a local would.

Since Indians can be so friendly and curious with tourists, touts prey on this and might be able to scam you out of hundreds or thousands of dollars.

Most touts, however, are simply trying to get you to buy from their shop, get you to hire their taxi, or stay at their guesthouse.

Often touts are a minor annoyance, but touts can be dangerous they don’t have your best interests at heart. Many just want a commission.

They might offer recommendations on important decisions, such as:

  • Which guesthouse you stay at?
  • Which taxi you take?
  • Which restaurant you eat at?
  • Which shop you buy gifts from?
  • Which tour company you hire?

These decisions can have a big impact on whether you have a great trip to India or you are wanting to get out FAST!

But don’t worry, in this article, I’ll show you how clever touts can be so you are prepared. Then I’ll teach you how experienced travelers deal with them, so you can enjoy your trip to India.

The Definition of Touts in India

Touts are also called ”lapkas,” and can be aggressive salesmen on the streets of tourist destinations. For foreign and domestic tourists in India, they range from being only a minor annoyance to the cause of a ruined trip… and the loss of hundreds or thousands of dollars.

Dr. Nimit Chowdhary and Dr. Monika Prakash did a study on the challenges of tourist guiding in India and found:

  • Touts can be a menace to tourists.
  • Touts can physically harm tour guides.
  • Touts and unofficial tour guides provide poor quality services.
  • Touts can overwhelm foreign tourists.

If you visit the Taj Mahal, the Red Fort in New Delhi, or any tourist destination in India, you are going to be approached by salesmen wanting to sell you services or goods.

There are actually a wide variety of touts:

  • Hotel touts – They want you to come to their guesthouse.
  • Shop touts – They want you to see their shop.
  • Tour guide touts – They want to give you an unofficial tour.
  • Rickshaw touts – They want to give you a ride and will mob you at airports and train stations.

Many touts will offer ALL of these types of services based on what you are looking for. Many touts are also employed in the service industry.

For instance, official taxi drivers will have arrangements with hotels, restaurants, shops, and tours. If they bring you to a place of business and you buy, then they get a percentage of the sale.

The same goes for hotel clerks, tour guides, and more. You have to be aware that when you ask for a recommendation for a hotel, restaurant, or shop… you may not receive accurate information.

The tout is just going to recommend places where they get paid – NOT the place that is best for you.

Of course, not all touts are bad. If you want to reduce your headaches, it helps to understand their perspective.

Why Are There So Many Touts in India?

There are 1.3 billion people in India and 60% of them live on less than $3.10 a day, according to the World Bank. The richest 10% of the Indian population holds 77% of the national wealth. Therefore, if you’re trying to make a living in India, you’ll have a strong incentive to aggressively sell your services.

Another stat: The average income per person in India is $152 per month, according to the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation (MoSPI).

Yet, the average income per person in the USA is estimated to be $4012 per month, according to the Census Bureau reports of the Current Population Survey, Table PINC-01.

American tourists also spent $214 billion dollars in India in 2018, so you can imagine that there is a strong financial incentive for the touts to hound tourists. Hey, they have to eat too!

If you’ve been to the tourist destinations, you’ll know there is fierce competition among the touts to get your business.

For the sake of giving you the whole story and not jumping to conclusions… in some cases, the touts can actually help you out.

When Can a Tout Be Helpful?

Touts can be helpful if you are in a rush and don’t mind spending more for a service or item. For instance, if you’ve arrived in a city late at night and just want to find a decent guesthouse fast. Or if you want to buy a decent shirt and don’t care about spending a bit more.

Let’s say you’ve arrived at Varanasi’s train station late at night and you need a hotel. A tout could arrange one. It won’t be the best hotel and you won’t find the best price, but you can get it fast.

For me, I once needed to buy a bed frame and didn’t know where to go. Google Maps had zero options.

As I was asking a merchant, a tout overhead me and said he could take me to find one. Then over the course of the next couple of hours, he took me to 3 different bed frame stores, negotiated on my behalf, and eventually found a custom bed frame manufacturer at a price I wanted.

I paid him $7 USD or 500 rupees for his service and was grateful to have this done.

There can be some instances where a tout does a good job and will help you out. HOWEVER, it’s important to keep in mind that a tout is not your friend, although they will try to act like it. They do NOT have your best interest in mind and are only thinking about how to make more money.

Now, let’s go over some clever scams touts use to separate you from your money.

The Common Scams of Touts in India

The most common scam touts use is to tell you that your hotel burned down or is closed or is surrounded by riots, but come with them and they will show you a better hotel. Similar scams exist with other services, so they can take you someplace to get a commission.

Touts have partnerships worked out with hotels, restaurants, shops, tour agencies, and more.

When you approach a rickshaw driver and ask them “where to buy a nice shirt” or “where is a good place for dinner?” they are NOT thinking of the best recommendation for you.

They are thinking of which place will pay them the most money for your business.

This often happens in taxis. The driver might offer to take you to a nice hotel. Or they might even lie to you saying that your hotel is closed or burned down or there are riots blocking traffic… then they will suggest their own hotel where they will get a commission.

Some rickshaw drivers will tell you about shops and suggest you stop at them. Others will be more upfront and ask you to do them a “favor” before asking you to go into the shop for them.

Some touts will offer you a lower price on your fare if you go to their recommended shop.

Don’t do it.

The worst touts will tell you that your tour has been canceled, then they’ll take you to a fake tour agency, where you’ll face high-pressure sales tactics and overpriced poor quality tours. Some touts were recently arrested for using the official “Incredible India” banner at their fake travel agency.

These fake tours could cost you hundreds or thousands of dollars.

For a complete list of 80 common tourist scams in India, check out my article with everything you need to know.

Tips for Dealing With Touts in India

The Indian police can help you with pushy touts!

In order to enjoy your trip to India, you’ll want to know how to handle touts. I’ve been in India since 2018, and here are some tips that I use and other tips experienced travelers have shared with me:

  • Ignore them – Most touts will start off with a big smile and ask you, “where are you from?” I know it’s rude to ignore them, however, you must realize they are not being friendly, they just want your business. By answering their questions, you are just giving them false hope if you have no intention of purchasing.
  • Wave your hand “no” – Don’t speak to them, but just wave your hand a little to say “no.” I noticed Indian businessmen doing this and have started using it to great success. The touts are more likely to get the message and it’s less work for you.
  • Firmly say “no” – If someone is bothering you persistently, you can continue to say “no.”
  • Keep it friendly – You have the money, so you are in charge and most touts aren’t terrible people. They just want a sale. I prefer to keep things on friendly terms.
  • Don’t give out your personal details – If you do accept help from a tout, don’t give out your personal details, number or tell them where you are staying. I had a tout come to my home for months asking for money.
  • Explore South India – States like Kerala and Tamil Nadu have fewer touts than North India. New Delhi and Mumbai get so many tourists, they also have a lot of touts. Fewer international tourists go to South India and there are fewer touts to deal with there. This can be a great first-time destination for tourists.
  • Dial #100 for the police – If you are being abused, then you can call the police for help.

Final Words

Touts are common in India and you will have to deal with them, so I hope this article helped prepare you a bit more. Understand that most touts will be friendly, but they don’t want to be friends – they only want to get a commission and will not have your best interests in mind.

By ignoring touts, waving your hand dismissively, firmly saying no, keeping things friendly, heading to South India, not giving out your personal details, and dialing the police if you need them, you can deal with touts and still have a great trip to India.

If you are curious about all the scams you may encounter in India, then check out my extensive post: 80 Common Tourist Scams in India, Everything You Need To Know

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Benjamin Jenks

Traveler, Filmmaker, and Lover of India. I've been living, writing and sharing what I've learned about traveling in India since 2018. Learn more about me here or Youtube.

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