A Rendezvous of Tour Guides

A Rendezvous of Tour GuidesA Rendezvous of Tour Guides

International Tourist Guide Day, celebrated each year at the end of February, is an exciting time for tourist guides worldwide.  A celebration that began eight years ago is today the largest gathering of tourist guides globally, and has earned an important position in Iran’s tourism industry.

This year, from February 17 – 20, the event brought together around 600 tourist guides from across the country to the northeastern city of Mashhad, where they were joined by high ranking officials from Iran Culture Heritage and Tourism Organization (ICHHTO), representatives from parliament and chamber of commerce.

The vice-president of World Federation of Tourist Guide Associations (WFTGA), Ruby Roy, was among the guests. The purpose of her visit was also to inspect Iran’s tourism infrastructure, in preparation for hosting the next WFTGA convention scheduled for late January, 2017 in Iran.

Roy’s participation in the tourist guides event is in large part owned to Iran winning the bid in the 2015 WFTGA convention.

WFTGA is a non-governmental, non-commercial, non-political federation with more than 50 member countries, which advocates borderless tourism around the world and holds its biennial sessions in the voluntary countries.

Iran Federation of Tourists Guide Associations (IFTGA) sent a delegation of eight tourist guides a month ago, to Prague, Czech Republic for the first time to take part in the 16th WFTGA convention, in which Iran was a candidate for hosting the next WFTGA convention, bidding against two other countries, Denmark and Singapore.  

The result was a happy one. “Out of thirty-two officially accepted country votes, 18 votes were in favor of Iran,” says the vice president of the IFTGA, Mohsen Hajisaeed to Financial Tribune.

“Competing was not an easy task for us. Preparing the official bid document and fulfilling all the deadlines involved a large amount of research, and was extremely exhaustive.  

Presenting the supporting evidence for qualification was very time consuming.  Iran’s success in winning the bid was noteworthy because it was the first time a country has won a bid in its first attempt, and even more surprising, during its first year of participation,” Hajisaeed said, attributing the win also to the negotiation skills of the Iranian tourist guides, as well as the world’s appetite for visiting Iran.

“What Iran did in WFTGA 2015 was a sheer act of public diplomacy, involving face-to-face negotiation.

This form of communication is the best tool to help change Iran’s unjust image as an unsafe country,” Masih Sharif, a tourism lecturer and a delegate in Prague, told Financial Tribune on the sidelines of the event.

IFTGA head Arash Nouraghayee, added to this when at a press conference on Thursday he said: “Iranian tourist guides, 6,500-strong, are by no means silent observers of events, rather they are active players who take steps to improve their country’s profile.

They have formed associations in 19 provinces taking turns each year to host the national tourist guide event no matter how far they are from Tehran, which is the center of all services and resources; thereby honing their skills to host, organize, and guide large numbers of guests.”

  Environmental Issues

Nouraghayee further noted: “Neither are the tour guides silent on environmental issues, having initiated several campaigns to protect the country’s resources.  

A bold instance of this was proposing the idea of printing a design of Asiatic Cheetah, a critically endangered cheetah subspecies surviving only in Iran, on the T-shirts of the national football players in the 2014 FIFA World Cup.”

The national convention provides a platform for guides to discuss issues, network with industry officials to improve their career prospects, learn and be updated on the latest developments, and further familiarize themselves with different parts of the country.

Ruby Roy, having made her assessment appeared to be in favor of Iran when she said on the event’s closing day: “Based on the unbelievable hospitality of Iranian people, the great support of government officials, and the passion of tour guides for their country, Iran would be a great host for the 2017 convention.”

Although a welcome feedback, this should not be seen as a shoe-in however, as there is a lot of work to be done.  During a press conference, Roy pointed to some areas which the country should improve, including provision of more and better resting places and improving road traffic safety and traffic jams.

During the second day of the event, the tourist guides joined other compatriots in a less than two-month old Come2Iran campaign on Facebook and Instagram, in which people submitted videos of themselves inviting the world to visit Iran. 107 tourist guides came together and formed a “Come2Iran” drive by holding colored umbrellas over their heads, and the scene was photographed and filmed from above with a helicam.    

Nouraghayee said “If we manage to bring 500 foreign tourist guides to Iran in 2017, it will give a strong message to the world that Iran is indeed a safe country.”