I’ve written before about how guides run a tour on any given day – but what about the prequel to that? What do you need to do to make sure that things run as smoothly as possible? Well, the main thing is to know your stuff. Knowing your subject is the crucial element to work as a tour guide – and how to get to that point is research. And that’s not just looking up what’s on Wikipedia.
It’s important to outline straight away that tour guides can never operate in the way Google can. Our brains don’t fit as much information as a computer; human guides simply can’t be looked at in that way. But what we can achieve, and what you can achieve as a tour guide, is understanding local context. Being a local is the best weapon you have towards achieving greatness… but regardless of whether or not that applies to you, research past the odd website is vital.
Researching for a walking tour must come from a range of sources. While your opinion matters, so does the opinion of others. Local opinion, and academic opinion. So, where do you start?
- The Internet
Wikipedia might be the first result on any Google search, but it should be taken with caution. I barely click on Wikipedia pages for research, unless it’s to verify something I’ve read elsewhere, or to find a link to something they claim. Of course, Wikipedia is editable all the time, so while it is monitored many pages can be largely based on fiction and sources are not always reputable. It’s important to use it knowing all this, but I would advise to avoid it completely.
Blogs should also be read with caution as while much of the stuff circulating online is the same, if one person has misquoted, they likely all have. Websites that are curated by councils, history groups, or your state/federal government, are your most reputable options as they often have dedicated staff working to provide the information at hand.
The Internet is also great for academic resources, through state library catalogues and access to digitised documentation.
Nothing can beat a good book. Not least one that has been approved by a major publisher, proofread, and contains reputable sources. Books also happen to date much further back than the Internet, so it’s a likely bet you’ll find things in books that you won’t find online. That’s certainly been the case in research for Flamboyance Tours’ Adelaide walking tours, where great Adelaide stories are hidden between pages of locally-published books. Books offer more in-depth research to particular topics, whether academically written or not, and are also good to have physically so as to keep notes.
You can use a mix of biographies, non-fiction books, and even satirical novels if it provides broad context about your subject. Public libraries and state libraries with reference books can both be of huge help.
Print media is not looked at these days in the way it once was. While now we consume so much online, once upon a time print was KING. Having worked as a print journalist before my switch to becoming a tour guide I may be slightly biased, but there’s so much value in a news article that can stand the test of time. If it’s a good article it’ll be balanced and fair – and while sometimes print media can lean one political way or the other, it’s still a story that’s been researched by someone paid to do it. A journalist’s reputation is on the line with every article they write, so you can count on it being as accurate as knowingly possible.
For newer stories, a subscription to your newspaper’s website is fine – but most of the time it doesn’t get you too far and you’ll have to look further for stories from more than 20 years ago. Old newspapers are often stored in library archives, or in the State Library of South Australia’s case, on microfilm, where you have to load the negatives into a special machine where it projects the image onto a computer screen. Researching gets fun when it’s old school!*
*It’s cool to like research, OK?
- Local stories
If you’re a local, you’ll have your own story to tell. But think of the people you know and ask them about what they know of the city. You’ll be amazed at the stories people have heard, or who they may have known for a time. For example, I’m still learning stories about my family’s connections to city landmarks. I knew my grandparents had a fruit and vegetable stand in the Central Market Arcade for a decade (by the Adelaide Central Market), but my dad shared new information with me about this only recently!
- The landmarks themselves
You’ll be talking about a lot of landmarks if you’re doing any sort of standard tour, and the only way to know these buildings or shops is to actually visit them! If you need to find Adelaide’s best chocolate, you’ll go into all the chocolatiers to try their products, or if you want to find out about Parliament House, you’ll take a tour. Getting familiar with what you’re talking about also involves you getting away from the desk and exploring the city you’re promoting. I’ve known tour guides who don’t like doing tours themselves, or who might not like a food spot they have to talk about, and that’s fine. But in the name of research it should really be something you do to keep up to date on information about that place.
When you put all these together, you start to form quite a basis for creating research that travellers will appreciate and will make you a better tour guide. The aim of having the best tour possible should always be at the front of your mind. When I think of what I want to find out for my tours of Adelaide, I think of what I would want to find out on Adelaide tours as a traveller actually taking a tour, then work from there. But each researcher has their own method and they’re all the right one.
Is there anywhere else you would look to research for a city walking tour? And please comment if you happen to use this as a starting point for your own tour research!
Missed the last post? Find out who Queen Adelaide was, the namesake for our amazing city.