Hotel Professionals

Preserving cultural identity in popular tourist destinations.


The majority of tourists are well educated, read a lot, and tend to be generally well informed. Most will take the time buy or borrow a guidebook on their destination, and read before departure.

In many tourism oriented countries however, the information provided on local sights and the country in general is by guides, or people pretending to be guides, who fall well short of being informed, let alone authoritative, but often misleading.

It seems to me that the French tourism authorities and now a few others have been doing the right thing by insisting that anyone in France wanting to be an official and certified tourist guide, must be a graduate of a respected university and approved tourist guide programme.

The duration of these programmes is four years minimum, and all are very rigorous. Students are lectured on French history, architecture, agriculture, art, gastronomy, and many more topics in an attempt to educate them adequately for tourists interested in all aspects of the culture.

All groups must hire a certified guide in addition to their tour director who travels with the group and is responsible for their well being. Private tourists can make their own arrangements as they see fit and can afford.

Tourism police officials ensure that impostors have no chance to fleece innocent and gullible tourists with false information about

goods, food, wines, and France in general.

In many countries, tourism authorities fail to recognize the importance of well-educated, informed, trained, and polite guides. Often, tour operators hire the least expensive and often inadequate or inept guides who are ill informed and just point out buildings or museums rather than telling their importance and history.

Often, tourists travellign in groups or privately know about sights and the country than some guides pretend to know.

So what should a guide know about the sights, history, the culture of the country, region or city? First and foremost, at least one internationally spoken language (English, French, Spanish, now more and more Russian, Japanese, or Chinese) other than his/her mother tongue and preferably two.

Any guide must be educated enough to know in detail important fact about the country i.e population size, geography, economy, history, social structure, gastronomy, art, museums, architecture, language, psychology, and goods and art available for purchase.

Guides must be able to direct tourists to shops and point out good value merchandise, recommend restaurants that feature specialties of the region and charge reasonable prices, and typical entertainment venues for example in Cairo belly dancing featuring cabarets.

In some countries ( i.e China, even Russia, Turkey, Israel, just to name a few) , guides are essentially government informers masquerading as guides. There are still many countries that encourage toruism, but want to have absolute control over visitors activities once they enter their jurisdiction. This starts with visa requirements. China and Russia along with many other countries require visas for which they charge exorbitant amounts of money and those that require no visas impose an entrance fee pending on the country of origin of the traveller. In Chile the entrance fee is US $ 50.00 for Canadians, but $ 100.00 for Americans.

Then there are other countries that train guides by feeding them false historical facts i.e Turkey, Israel, Iran, Palestine, Syria just to name a few.

An international and impartial organization to verify all the information a country feeds tourists would be able to weed out false information from being spread. Chinese authorities interpret the student uprising of 1988 in Beijing than the western media.

The same is true for North Korea, that pretends to be a “democracy’ when in reality it is a dictatorship of monumental proportions.

The stories told in the now defunct German Democratic Republic about the German Federal Republic were completely false, and invented by authorities to mislead gullible visitors.

Tourist deserve better and those interested enough will make it their business to find out the truth. These days it is easy to find the truth if you have a computer and IT connection.

The other important question is how to provide valuable information to potential and actual tourists?

Tourists originating from different countries and cultures have different values, educational backgrounds, interests, and ideas about entertainment. Guides must sue psychology to determine how much information suffices without boring tourists to death. Obviously, a group of architects will ask very pointed questions about architecture than a general tourist mainly interested in sights, food and shopping.

Information becomes outdated. Government agencies responsible for guides should provide from time to time upgrading courses.

In my view, all tourist- oriented countries must operate guide schools with well thought out curricula, select entrants carefully, and provide outstanding teachers to educate students, and graduate them after rigorous testing. Specialized tourist guides would provide in depth information about history, or architecture, or art. I can testify that an specialist on Sicilian history guiding tourists through a Greek archaeological site will make the place come alive.

There are those who advocate audio-guides that can be rented in museums, city tours, or archaeological sites, but these devices fail to satisfy the tourist interested to know more, and above all lack the ability to answer questions.

Even countries that are known as sun, sand, and sex destinations can benefit by researching their history, geography, culture, and shopping carefully would prompt tourists to spend more, or at the very least remember their visit very favourably.

While research and training guides takes a long time, and can be expensive, the investment will prove to be worthwhile in the long run.

Hrayr Writer – Hrayr Berberoglu – E-mail – Read his books?
Professor B offers seminars to companies and interested parties on any category of wine, chocolates, chocolates and wine, olive oils, vinegars and dressings, at a reasonable cost.

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