tour [noun]: a journey or visit, for the purpose of pleasure, business, or education.
A brief look at online dictionaries yielded this combo definition. And if you ask people why they would “take a tour,” they might answer that they want to see something, learn something. Chicago is definitely a tour city: people know when they visit that a walking tour or a boat tour are THE ways to see our famous architecture.
Those of us who lead tours do well to reflect upon what we’re doing. Many of us consider ourselves teachers. Some of us are entertainers, too. We’re leaders on a journey. And who we’re working for matters. Some tour companies dictate specific content for all tour guides to present. But the best allow their guides to personalize and customize the material. Are we simply sharing information? Or are we interpreting our city’s history and built environment so that people understand?
I’m not one for canned tours – to give or to take. I’ve taken many tours and the canned tour sounds canned to me; it strikes me as lackluster, no matter the jokes inserted in the perfect places. I may dedicate a lot of information to memory, but I never memorize a script. I never give the same tour twice. The people and their responses affect what I do. I change things up on my feet. Plus, my tours are ever evolving. I research and learn new things every day, so I constantly tweak content. I think tours should be full of life.
What is it we want to give when we give a tour? I know I want people to see something and to learn something, yes. But I try to give people an experience. I want to immerse people in history so that they come away having seen, learned, and felt. When I invite people into a house museum, I want them to feel as if they are visiting a family’s home. When I lead people on a tour of the old Marshall Field’s store, I want them to relive the magic of that iconic place. My nightlife tours – by decade! 1920s, 1950s, 1960s – are my attempts at giving people a good time in Chicago, but with a focus. Through images and sound and moving through evocative spaces, I hope to transport people a little bit. Well, then, eating and drinking adds another sensory dimension to it!
I’ve been leading tours for over two decades and I’ve learned a lot about what works and what doesn’t. I’ve trained other tour guides and tried to help them be their best, too. I realized long ago that this is the most fulfilling work: it is a chance to create something that I can give, something positive and life affirming, something fun and surprising, something that maybe opens minds and in some small way, hearts.
Other images, WendyCity.