TAXI drivers have been slammed for trying to rip off cruise tourists by offering them sightseeing tours of Bahrain at exorbitant sums of money.
Some of the 2,500 tourists who arrived on the luxury vessel Aida Blu that docked at Khalifa Bin Salman Port yesterday were asked to pay as much as 150 euros (BD73) to visit top tourist spots.
The GDN witnessed taxi drivers trying to con several, mostly German, holidaymakers near Bab Al Bahrain Post Office.
"This is absurd - I came here to have a good time and here I am being asked to pay this money for something I do not want to do," said one elderly tourist, who was with his wife.
"I want to take a walk and, perhaps, shop in the area and not go where our tour organisers will take us anyway."
Another couple were willing to take up the offer at half the price, but were unable to strike a deal.
"We would rather walk in the area and then go to other places by bus," said one of the tourists.
When confronted by the GDN, taxi drivers insisted they go "only by the meter".
Raja Machharu, a representative of tour organiser Mathias Tourism, said it had 40 buses taking tourists around Bahrain, 22 of which went to Bab Al Bahrain.
"This issue of taxi drivers is a problem and we often have tourists complaining," he said.
"We guide the visitors and tell them to go around the area and come back at an appointed time, but as soon as they get off the buses they are surrounded by taxi drivers.
"We cannot do much but want the government to step in and take action to ensure it does not happen."
Businessmen in Manama Suq said the attitude of taxi drivers would give a bad image of Bahrain.
"Tourism is already in a mess and we should be happy that so many tourists are coming after a lot of efforts," said trader Abdulkarim Al Fulaij.
"Serious efforts need to be made to end the taxi drivers' menace.
"There should be tourism police as there is in Thailand and other countries.
"These policemen should catch taxi drivers indulging in such activities and their licences should be suspended," he added.
Mr Al Fulaij called for the government to organise its own guides and mini-buses to take the tourists around at a pre-determined fee.
It is not the first time taxi drivers have angered cruise tourists visiting Bahrain.
In January 2010, officials from Royal Caribbean International criticised them for creating a melee as they rushed to greet tourists as they reached the main gate of the port.
Taxi drivers were also accused of demanding fares ranging from BD113 to BD150 to take them to Manama for shopping.
It prompted several tourists to return to the ship and refuse to go anywhere for fear of being ripped off.
His Royal Highness Prime Minister Prince Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa later ordered an inquiry into the incident and the suspension of officials concerned.
A major police crackdown was also launched on rogue taxi drivers by the General Directorate of Traffic.
Around 8,000 tourists have visited Bahrain since the cruise season got underway at the start of the month.
Every vessel that berths in Bahrain is estimated to be worth around BD113,000 to the economy.