Anyone who has ventured outside of the quiet confines of North America will have encountered “touts” — local residents who gather at bus and train stations, airports and other tourist-intensive locations to hawk their hotel, private room, taxi service, or other tourist service. Touts can be helpful or annoying, depending on the situation and how relentless they are.
On our first solo international travel of any great length, to Prague in the fall of 1998, Catherine and I made the mistake of trying to ignore a man who seemed like a tout but who was actually a bona fide transit “honour system inspector.” We survived.
In the Dominican Republic the next spring, we had a taxi tout spirit away our luggage to a waiting cab before we noticed; once Catherine had climbed inside, he moved between me and the door, looking for a tip. When I offered $5 Canadian — essentially worthless outside of Canada, but all I had — he wasn’t impressed, and quite a flurry of exasperation ensued.
But there have been situations where we’ve arrived in a strange city late at night, needing a place to stay, and having a “lodging tout” present themselves has been a very valuable service.
Until this week, I’d never seen a tout in North America. On Thursday, though, at the SMT bus station in Charlottetown picking up G., I saw my first: a man was approaching all “look like they’re not from around here” types getting off the bus asking if they were looking for a place to stay.
We’re slowly joining the international community…