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Who gets to be a "local" tour guide?
This tends to be the buzz word for the emerging trend of 'authentic, local tours'. And this also happens to be a regular debate I would have with teams who would strictly define local as; "someone who was born in the city (or at least in the country) where they were guiding".
True, there is something very special about having a guide who has a history in the place you're touring. On a tour of Little Italy, I used to point out to guests the apartment where my Grandmother grew up. On the other hand, there's a LOT of value as well in an ex-pat guide who can explain to you why New Yorkers might come off as rude to an outsider (something that might be hard for a native to put into words because they would argue New Yorkers are very nice).
If all of your guides have a similar background and experience (in guiding and in life), your tours are all going to be comprised of the same stories and histories. However, when you have a diverse group of guides, there are so many more perspectives, stories, and skills to share, boosting your entire team, and enriching your tours.
In this article, I'll go through the benefits of a diverse tour guide team.
Checklist of a diverse guide team.
Each city and country is diverse in its own way, the idea is to have your tour guide team accurately reflect the diversity that is unique to where your tours are, in order to reap the full benefits of skill-sharing and story-sharing between guides.
Here are some groups you'll want to make sure are reflected on your team;
However, as mentioned before, there is a lot of amazing insight an ex-pat can provide to travelers (who are foreigners themselves). Pitched right to the guests, it can be seen as a great value.
Eventually, that team in Japan began hiring ex-pats and saw a huge change in their original team (all Japanese natives). Their English proficiency improved (through regular team meetings with their English-native colleagues), and they were able to understand foreign guests better through the perspectives of the ex-pat guides.
They will also be able to give better insight into tour details for older guests, for example pointing out that a new proposed tour route has too much walking without a bathroom stop, or that there needs to be an elevator option.
To the same point, younger guides can keep the older ones up to date on younger trends happening in the city from music to food.
Requiring your guides to read about the history of Chinatown in San Francisco is one thing, but having Chinese-American guides who can tell stories of family generations ago who worked on the railroads is going to raise the bar of your tour content.
Think about indigenous people, gypsies, modern-day immigrants, religious groups, etc. The ugly fact is that very often minorities don't have the same privileges as the majority and while tour guides certainly don't make riches, there is a certain privilege to taking the leap to freelance. Go one step further and partner with local non-profits offering job training to these minority groups.*
*Another category entirely could be Socio-Economic Diversity. Invisible Cities, a social enterprise dreamed up by Zakia Moulaoui, trains people affected by homelessness to become walking guides.
Another obvious, and important variety to have that I haven't mentioned here is, which could be an article of itself. You'd be surprised at how many companies have 50/50 male-female, yet if you look at guides who give the beer tour, 99% male (and not for lack of interest). Then, of course, you're missing an entire group of people who are non-conforming. I cannot stress enough, the more variety of life experiences you have on your team, the better & more relevant, your tours.