Several years ago, I recall how perplexed a clerk of the local Chamber of Commerce was when trying to classify my profession of tourist guide for bureaucratic reasons. “Are you a merchant? A teacher? A travel agent? Well then, tell me, what are you exactly? There’s no such thing as your profession in the commercial sector!”
Finally, after months of queries (yes, that’s right, not days or weeks, but months!), I learned that tourist guides fell under the category of craftsmen/artisans. At first, this classification puzzled me and then it filled me with pride.
According to the Italian encyclopedia, Treccani, the craftsman/artisan is he or she who creates, produces, and offers a quality product, often original, as opposed to those products that are industrially and mass-produced. The prefix of artisan derives from the word ‘art’. Our art, that of a tourist guide, is more theoretical and intellectual than manual and in some cases, can also attain levels of outright excellence.
Who and what is a tourist guide today in light of the recent events caused by the COVID-19 pandemic?
It is someone who thrives on culture and produces culture. Culture in the broad sense of the word.
A culture that embraces multiple fields of knowledge. It is someone who works in tourism and is inquisitive, always thirsty for the knowledge of beauty and the beauty of knowledge.
This terrible calamity, which the whole world is experiencing, will, I believe, make a difference to our profession in the near future in Europe and particularly, in Italy. According to UNESCO, Italy boasts more World Heritage Sites than any other country in the world.
It will be possible to see how many of the twenty-five thousand registered regional guides in Italy (to February 2020) will survive this crippling blow to the organized tourism sector.
Those that do not have the vocation, the passion, or the specific organizational skills and were doing the job just for the sake of convenience and opportunity, will abandon the sinking ship and find a more secure occupation.
I certainly cannot blame those that do, especially our younger colleagues.
In this state of uncertainty, in which tourism ministers and officials are keeping such low profiles as to be presumed to have gone missing, those associations or groups of guides, which are well-organized, are at work developing thematic tours for proximity tourism and synergizing their best efforts with the relevant authorities.
Nonetheless, for those who have dedicated years of work and passion to give tourists enjoyment, the time has come to ask those European and national political institutions, which supervise this strategic economic sector, to take stock of national legislation regarding the tourist guide profession.
Sustainable environment, sustainable economy, long-range strategic planning, coordination and good practice among the various stakeholders of the tourism supply chain, experience and professionalism of those in charge of organizing the sector….even at a political-institutional level.
I ask myself and I ask you: if not now that we have the time to reflect and discuss about what I have written and even about what I have not written….then when?