The New Breed of City Tour Guides
Tour Guides have a lot to complain about. Whether it is the accessibility to safe legal convenient pick up/ drop off areas, unlicensed Guides working without consequences, or a respectable minimum rate of pay that is adhered to by all, you can find Guides sharing their thoughts and planning on how to solve the complaints.
It is interesting to note that one of the direst topics is not getting much press. Are local Guides becoming obsolete? I am not talking about the old debate of Tour Managers doing the job of a local Guide. I am talking about something that can have a much greater impact on the Guiding landscape. Electronic Guides.
Today’s city guide apps for smartphones are gaining in popularity as smartphone usage grows. They are cheaper than a live Tour Guide. They pause when we want to take a photo. They will endlessly repeat themselves if we did not hear the commentary over the horns of traffic. They are never overbooked and are available exactly when the clients want the information.
Imagine if you, as a Guide, had to compete with someone who had those characteristics. It is obvious that we would be seen as inferior. But since this competitor is a collection of computer programs we maintain the one key advantage, we are alive. Nothing can beat a live, entertaining, knowledgeable, professional local Guide showing you around his or her beloved city. Or can it?
Today’s electronic city guides are GPS based and automatically tell you all about your current location. They enable you to see and save a map of your tour, add photos, travel videos and notes. All of this can then be immediately shared with friends via social media. You can also plan out your own customized tour based upon your fitness level, specific dates, and interests or download one of the growing number of quality tours directly to your iPad. If you have a question that is not part of your electronic tour, you can pause it, then Google your question. Do you want recommendations as to which cafe in the square has the best cappuccino? Of course you can ask your live Tour Guide. Otherwise an online café search will yield ratings with comments left by your fellow travelers. Did I mention that such a search may also yield coupons or special offers?
An electronic city guide is another avenue to satisfy a travelers hunger for knowledge. These apps are increasingly becoming integrated with the mechanics of traveling. Today, if we want to know a train schedule, or opening time of a museum, or what are the museums special exhibits, we turn to our smart phones. So it is natural that an industry has sprung up to help guide the modern traveler. One interesting part of this new industry is that some of the best touring apps are tours created by those professionals with the best knowledge, namely, local Guides.
There are many opportunities that can come about from Guides sharing their knowledge to create a City Guide app. These range from commissions to branding rights. Local Guides might make a few hundred dollars touring a group while simultaneously earning another few hundred or thousand from the download commissions of all those travelers touring around listening to them on an iPhone. When all cities have guiding apps, then the competition over which app is better for the consumer really heats up. App providers may tout the credentials of the creator of the tour, with links to the Tour Guide’s site. Or apps may find their information from local university professors or armchair Tour Guides. Hundreds of thousands of these tours are already being downloaded monthly in cities around the world. This will only increase as the city guide app industry evolves and further integrates itself into the hand, mind and pockets of travelers. What role does the professional Tour Guide play in this growing industry? Will the Tour Guides of the future be complaining that the information in the apps came from amateurs? Or will we use our share our knowledge and see this as a revenue making opportunity?
If you do not know what is coming, then you are destined to react to the effects of a situation. My advice is to understand how the competitive landscape is changing and plan for your personal success. This is just one small topic being covered in my lecture "Guiding in the Digital Age". If you cannot make it to the World Guide Summit to hear it live, you can of course watch the video of my lecture on your smart phone. But be forewarned, I will only be answering questions from those in attendance. There still is a benefit to interacting to a live Guide.
Scott MacScott is the Chairman of the International Association of Tour Managers – Americas and a featured lecturer at the World Guide Summit, Oct 17-24, 2011 Quito Ecuador.