San Francisco 2012 - The Fifth NFTGA-USA Conference

Saturday, January 21st

The NFTGA president, Jean Feilmoser, who is also the SFTGG president, opened the conference, with the theme "Guiding: The Bridge Between People and Places," and welcomed the attendees who represented the following associations (number of attending members in parenthesis): Greater Boston Tour Guide Association (3); Chicago Tour Professionals Association (4); Guides Association of New York City (2); Tour Guide Association of Greater New Orleans (4); Rocky Mountain Guide Association (5); Professional Tour Guide Association of San Antonio (1); San Francisco Tour Guide Guild (40); Guild of Professional Tour Guides of Washington, DC (21); and, others (3) for a total of 83 attendees.

Proclamations were read by a San Francisco tour guide performing as Emperor Norton, on of San Francisco's most famous historic characters on behalf of Travel San Francisco (CVB), the Lt. Governor of California and the Mayor of San Francisco.

NFTGA's board of directors was introduced and a presentation was made by a representative for the upcoming America's Cup sailing race which will be held in San Francisco.

Ted Bravos, the founder of the International Tour Managers Institute, gave the key note address. He indicated that tour guides are independent and lone wolves who are also thinkers. We reach out to help one another while constructing bridges between people and place (the conference theme). He further stated that we are the ambassadors for peace and international understanding as well as story tellers.

Bravos advised us to prepare for an influx of tourists from Brazil, Russia, India and China (known as the BRIC countries) as there is a new U.S. Travel Promotion Act that should make getting visas easier for international visitors, particularly for the aforementioned countries. With this in mind, guides who speak other languages should benefit.

He proposed that guide associations need to contact state and local governments and other industry related associations to promote the use of tour guides and make ourselves available for FAM trips that many of these government agencies and associations offer to tour operators and others, such as travel writers.

Mention was made about drivers not pleased about being referred to as "bus drivers," as in saying, our bus driver today is... Instead, they would appreciate being referred to as motor coach operator or "captain" as in other methods of transportation.

Bravos submitted that the word travel is from the French word travail which actually means to work. Tour guides take the work out of travel. He then went on to say that railroads made travel accessible which led to motor coach tours and jet planes which made travel opportunities more available. In the U.S. advertizing promotions such as "See America First" and theme parks such as Disneyland and others increased the desire for people to travel. Also, the interstate highway system led to using gateway cities as hubs to visit nearby areas. Now we are facing social networking and to survive we should embrace this social media NFTGA has a Facebook page. In addition, we need to educate the politicians about the importance of tour guides. He advocated attending the Governor's tourism conference that most states hold and meeting with senators, congressmen and congresswomen and their staffs to remind them about the importance of tourism and tour guides plus we should participate in travel talk show radio and industry webinars.

After a buffet lunch there was a Culinary Tourism panel. It was moderated by Barbara Dimas, who is a SFTGG guide specializing in local tours for Italian groups. The speakers included, Marcia Gagliardi, a freelance food writer best know in the San Francisco area for her e-column, "the table hopper;" Andrea Nadel, the founder of Gourmet Walks, specializing in chocolate tours and employing 11 part-time tour guides; Joan Weir, a James Beard award winning author, chef, international food tour conductor and guide, and TV personality with her own series on PBS; and, GANYC's Marta Cooper who conducts "Nosh" tours. The panelists described the necessary ingredients (pun intended) for conducting food tours. This included, but was not limited to, selecting and working with food venues, serving portions, identifying food trends, costs and liability laws.

This was followed by a panel about the People in Guiding, moderated by Barbara Buryiak, a Greater Boston Tour Guide Association guide and tour director. Panelists included Robert Brennan who offers classes in cities requiring guides to be licensed and Anne O'Dea, a licensed guide who also is a tour director.

This session was a debatable one as some guides, particularly in cities where licensing is required, challenged the panelists with methods used by Robert Brennan in offering programs to help guides obtain licenses. Also, the ongoing argument of tour directors replacing local guides surfaced and was heatedly discussed. The overwhelming majority of guides are against this practice as it was argued that tour directors, who might well be familiar with locations, often do not have enough experience or local knowledge to provide tourists with "insider" type information. In addition, comments from the audience indicated that there is a trend by tour operators to use tour directors instead of local guides in an effort to reduce costs. Another possible trend reported by guides is age discrimination. It appears that some tour operators use only young guides, although one reason offered for this practice is that younger guides frequently work for less money.

The last session of the afternoon was a treasure hunt arranged by Beth Graubart, a past board member of the San Francisco Tourist Guide Guild and co-owner of City Clues Adventures and Tours. We were divided into teams with a list of clues describing selected trivia about San Francisco and a time limit to find the answers. A sample item to find was who protects a copy of the Maltese Falcon (prop used in the movie of the same name). We had to find a San Francisco street with the same name as one of New York City's islands (Ellis) and find the building that housed the Dashiell Hammett Club and go inside to find the statue to find the answer (Pinkerton). This was a fun experience and should be worth considering to those that want to expand the type of tours they offer.

The evening part of the program was BYOT night (Buy Your Own Taco), an optional activity. Participants walked from the hotel in a group to the BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) and took the subway to the Latino Mission District, which some might say was similar in some ways to New York's El Barrio. We were given a walking tour by Jean Feilmoser and then left on our own with some advice to select a restaurant for dinner.

Sunday, January 22nd

The opening presentation was about Viator, our primary sponsor and an on-line Web site with a roster of guides around the world. Viator is recognized by both the World Federation of Tourist Guide Associations (WFTGA) and NFTGA. In areas that require guides to be licensed it will only list those that are. A number of NFTGA guides in other associations, including GANYC, are listed. Viator announced it is now accepting videos from those who are listed to be included in their respective listings. You can submit your videos and they will be edited to one to two minutes at no charge. Viator charges the tourist 20% of your fee in advance and the tourist pays the guide directly at the time of meeting for a tour. Since a fee is paid in advance, Viator claims that no shows are a rarity. You can register for free by going to viator.com.

Harvey Paul Davidson then made a presentation about Tourism Cares, a not-for-profit travel and tourism organization. Its mission is "To Preserve the travel experience for future generations". It preserves the travel experience for the benefit of tomorrow's travelers in several ways.

It provides financial assistance to tourism related natural, cultural and historic sites around the world.

It helps to educate those who will be the future workforce of the largest industry in the world by giving scholarships to those who are studying tourism and travel; fostering internships so those interested can have a hands-on learning experience, and educating the traveling public on how to become more responsible travelers.

It brings the tourism industry together to volunteer and help clean up and restore important historic sites that are in need of care and rejuvenation.

NFTGA is now a sponsor of Tourism Cares and its logo and Web site appears on Tourism Cares Web site. Bruce Beckham, its Executive Director spoke at a GANYC monthly meeting last year and Harvey Paul Davidson has participated in several of its programs representing both GANYC and NFTGA.

Next on the program was a panel on Green and Sustainable Tourism. Panelists included: Thomas Roth who founded CMI Green which engages in consulting and conducting educational seminars; Marissa LaMagna, who founded Studio Rasa, a green certified community arts and wellness center, and Bay Area Green Tours; Shannon Wentworth, owner of Sweet Tours; and, Christina Mazza, a San Francisco based artist who creates work exclusively from scavenged materials. She was an artist-in-residence at Art at the Dump, which is now a unique tourist destination. The key theme touched on by all was "people, planet and profit". They emphasized the need to preserve what we have and ways to do it will be beneficial and profitable for everyone.

We were then divided into groups and given walking tours of San Francisco's Chinatown which was followed by a Dim Sum luncheon at Peninsula Seafood, a local restaurant that caters to tour groups.

Afterward, we walked to the North Beach area and attended the long running ongoing cabaret performance, "Beach Blanket Babylon". This is one of San Francisco's famous theater attractions and attended by many tour groups.

When the performance was over we walked to a nearby Italian restaurant, US, that also caters to tour groups for a pasta dinner. Fortunately, there was a large screen TV and we were there in time to see the overtime period of the football game and watch the New York Giants defeat the San Francisco Forty-Niners for the division championship and go on to play in the Superbowl. It was too far to walk back to the hotel so we took a local city bus back.

Monday, January 23rd

The first program in the morning was a Cultural Tourism panel. This was moderated by Elizabeth Vasile, founder and operator of Genius Loci, a cultural tour development consultancy and guide service. Panelists included: Jean Halvorsen, who heads the program for private guide tours in the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Kitty Burns-Nasarow, who created The Vampire Tour of San Francisco; and Paulo Cabezas, who owns private art galleries in San Francisco and Kansas City and provides curatorial services. The panelists indicated that cultural tourism is for smart travelers who are curious and often returning to places they have visited previously. They are beyond just taking a site seeing tour and look forward to discussions with docents. These tourists are often proud of their own home towns and culture and want to compare cultures and be a part of what they are seeing. For these tourists it is a knowledge exchange and they often ask lots of questions.

As a special guest, the San Francisco police commissioner made an appearance and addressed the attendees. He is a big advocate of tour guides as he strongly believes that we are the people who know our respective cities and can be helpful in noticing things that might require police attention before a situation develops. The universal problems with tour buses was brought to his attention and he said it was in his interest to follow up with the needs of guides as tourism is San Francisco's major industry. If only our own police commissioner would be so enlightened!

Following this Harvey Paul Davidson was next on the program and he presented a workshop on the Business of Guiding. He provided a hand out of an outline for a marketing plan that he suggested all tour guides and associations should have as it is a road map for being in business regardless if you are an independent contractor or large corporation. The individual sections were then discussed and the attendees were able to write in notes so that they could then create their own respective marketing plans.

The afternoon was free for the attendees, except for the NFTGA board. We then had a meeting to review the program so far and discuss suggestions for future conferences.

The conference was designed by NFTGA president, Jean Feilmoser, to lesson our "carbon footprint" in the most "green city" in the USA by including many walking tour options and showing how we can limit fuel emissions. With this in mind we were provided with our first and only motor coach transportation which took the hotel guest attendees to Fisherman's Wharf for the evening. We could fit everyone in as the San Francisco guides were not staying at the hotel and could take their own public transportation. Our destination was Neptune's Palace at the end of Pier 39, another restaurant that caters to tour groups. After dinner we walked to the beginning of the pier where we were treated to dessert at the Hard Rock Café and a DJ. From there our motor coach returned us to the hotel.

Tuesday, January 24th

There was a choice of two separate sessions in the morning that were repeated so that everyone had an opportunity to participate in both. One was a Voice & Movement 1 workshop presented by GANYC's own Marta Cooper. Marta an NFTGA founder and past president of GANYC, is a professional singer and former Broadway performer. She shared her techniques that she uses to sustain her speaking voice. After following Marta's advice and practicing her techniques most guides will not have to rely on amplification devices.

The other half of the program, Exploring Intercultural Communication through Stories and Improv was presented by Maricar Donato. Maricar, a member of the Washington Guild is a WFTGA Accredited International Trainer and multilingual as well as multicultural living part of the year in Southeast Asia. Attendees were divided into groups and given intercultural situations to work out between themselves. The goal was to get a better understanding of other peoples needs and how to best approach them.

Esther Banike, one of the founders and past president of NFTGA, and currently an Executive Board Member of the WFTGA presented an update of WFTGA activities and benefits of membership. She discussed WFTGA's participation in the International Standards Organization and EN/ISO 155565 which sets the requirements for tourist services, training and qualifications. It defines a tourist guide as a person who guides visitors in the language of choice. The WFTGA certifies trainers as National, International and lead International. Also, it offers courses in Train the Trainer and International Train the Trainer. The WFTGA is interested in having a training center in the U.S. and is in contact with several universities. Some benefits discussed included a Check List for Tourist Guides, a Handbook for Tourist Guides, Cultour Cards and publications. More information can be found on WFTGA's Web site, WFTGA.org.

Jean Feilmoser concluded the conference with thanks to the attendees who came, recognition of the board and members who worked on putting the conference together, local volunteers and organizations that were fiscal and major sponsors, and in kind sponsors and donors. It should be noted that Jean Feilmoser was responsible for getting sponsorship and putting this conference on. Terry Hall, NFTGA's treasurer, Esther Banike and Harvey Paul Davidson were on the conference committee assisting Jean with financial considerations, the meeting facilities, including audiovisual needs, panel participants and other details.