Guiding in the 21st Century

Posted by on Jul 21, 2014 in All Blogs, Blogs | 0 comments

Guiding in the 21st Century

I am in the USA on holidays and last weekend I was in Washington. I decided to make the most out of being in the capital by taking not one, not two, not three but four guided walking tours! Now, I have never taken so many tours in such a short time and I admit that I overdosed on learning (mea culpa). Yet, I was left somewhat “thirsty”, which is why I decided to reflect on what went missing from my 21st century guiding experience:

 

 

The guide: My guide was very but very enthusiastic and knowledgeable; thank God for that, especially as we all needed some livening up on the 4 hour tour of Washington’s main monuments and memorials. What I missed though was some human interaction. He seemed to put so much energy in his performance that none was left to get to know his clients. Today, guiding is not about simple regurgitation of knowledge, but about creating a rapport with the audience to help them get involved and connect with each other and the destination. This is an excellent and very cheap way to add value – and value for money is what tourists want today (for more on this, see p38 & 62 of my manual “How to sell Excursions”). Every participant must feel they are being cared for as individuals (e.g. don’t forget the lone female traveller, especially when the group is full of couples).

Walking guided tour Washington

Walking guided tour Washington

Walking guided tour in Washington

Walking guided tour in Washington

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The tours: I chose a selection of themed tours to learn about the city’s rich heritage. I started with a food tour of U Street, a neighbourhood well known for its role in the black civil right movement. I loved the concept of learning about this area’s history through its ethnic restaurants, which I was told served delicious food. The thing is I am French and I know what delicious food is about! I can safely say that I tasted some of the blandest and worst looking food I have ever seen in my life (see picture below for my “gravy and biscuit” dish). Yet, I learned some fascinating facts, especially about the role that food played in helping the Ethiopian community integrate in this predominantly African-American area and I am sure I could have learned more.

Gravy and biscuits

Liked the sweet potato topping

World famous Florida Av. grill
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So, what should you do if you want to be a good guide?
1) Don’t act for the sake of acting : your personality should shine through. Try to develop an interactive style that engages your audience. You should at least know where your clients are from and ask them if they can recount similar stories in their own countries. That will lead to interesting cultural exchanges (which will make the tour more interesting for you too).
2) Don’t raise expectations : if I had been told the food wasn’t to dream for, I would have judged the experience quite differently. It’s important to keep things into perspective and to understand who your clients are or how well travelled they are.
3) Be insightful : there was more to learn about how the food is made, where it comes from, who the owners are and their story (i.e. how difficult it was to set up business as an immigrant or a black American). Make it personal and recount anecdotes to add substance to your concept.
4) Interact with local communities : it would have been fascinating to hear the story of U Street though the voice of a resident, to learn how his/her life changed since the sixties.

 
Guiding in the 21st century is about honesty, authenticity and cultural interactions. Interpretation is about stories: the guide’s stories, the communities’ stories, the place’s stories and the audience’s stories. Make history come “alive”.

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