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Tour Guides, Minus The Tourists: Boston Guides Await Tourism's Return05:49
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Boston's North End, one of the neighborhoods where tour guides used to ply their trade before the pandemic, as viewed from the Custom House Tower. (Sharon Brody/WBUR)
Boston's North End, one of the neighborhoods where tour guides used to ply their trade before the pandemic, as viewed from the Custom House Tower. (Sharon Brody/WBUR)

The coronavirus pandemic has forced a lot of thriving industries to screech to a halt. Among the people affected by this disruption are the connoisseurs of local history at the heart of so many visitor experiences — Boston's tour guides.

WBUR’s Weekend Edition Host Sharon Brody spoke with some of these guides about the recent changes.

Interview Highlights

Collin Knight leads a walking tour at the Nubian Square mural. (Courtesy)
Collin Knight leads a walking tour at the Nubian Square mural. (Courtesy)

On the forced pause to guiding visitors through areas that have not been central to tourism:

Collin Knight, a Roxbury native who owns “Live Like A Local Tours” of Roxbury, Dorchester and Jamaica Plain:

What I miss most about it is the ... opportunity to touch more people ... to show them about how great these neighborhoods are and how rich the history is as well. There are a bunch of store owners who have owned stores in the Dudley Square area --Nubian Square, now — that have been here for 20 to 30 years that provide food from all parts of the Caribbean and parts of Africa. [I don’t think] people realize how multicultural these neighborhoods really are. When we talk about history ... it's not just about Faneuil Hall. It's about Boston. Once we can get back outside ... I'm really, really excited to educate people about the neighborhoods that I grew up in and around, and change the perception of these neighborhoods.

Aline Kaplan leads a walking tour in Boston. (Courtesy)
Aline Kaplan leads a walking tour in Boston. (Courtesy)

On how the abrupt change affects their careers:

Aline Kaplan, a tour guide for Boston by Foot, Haunted Boston and Destinations North America:

The pandemic has devastated the travel industry as a whole. Of course, you can't be a tour guide if there are no tourists. We're just sitting at home waiting. It feels awful. I know in the greater scheme of things ... feeling bad because I cannot give tours is a very small thing. But it’s a big thing in my life.

David Phillips, a tour guide in Boston, awaits the return of tourists. (Courtesy)
David Phillips, a tour guide in Boston, awaits the return of tourists. (Courtesy)

On the memories of what is missing:

David Phillips, a tour guide for Boston by Foot and Free Tours By Foot:

[What] I miss most [are] the aha moments. There are so many times during a tour when I look out at the people whom I'm leading and you'll see that moment of recognition, or you'll hear someone say, “Gee, I didn't know anything about that” … or when children reach out and and touch an object and are literally touching history.

Tour guide Jeffrey Doucette serves up history in Boston. (Courtesy)
Tour guide Jeffrey Doucette serves up history in Boston. (Courtesy)

On how the best tour guides combine history with entertainment:

Jeffrey Doucette, a tour guide with organizations including Boston By Foot and Haunted Boston:

A tour guide can give you their special touch. That little tidbit of Boston history that you may never, ever, ever get to know. Part of being a tour guide is you need to convey an interesting story. People are like, "I don't like history." No, you do like history! You just had a boring person who taught you history!

Terri Evans leads a walking tour in Boston. (Courtesy)
Terri Evans leads a walking tour in Boston. (Courtesy)

On possible lessons from local history for the challenges today:

Terri Evans, a tour guide with Boston By Foot:

You come to understand, if you look over the cycles of Boston history, the tenacity, the determination of a city that not [only] finds its feet time after time, but has a remarkable capacity for coming back from from crisis or from tragedy in a powerful way. [For example,] after the horrific Cocoanut Grove fire in 1942, Boston became a leader in new developments in the treatment of burn victims [and] new ways of looking at fire codes. That is what Boston is astonishing at — its capacity to take difficult times and not just survive them, but turn them around and make them a lesson for improving.

This segment aired on June 14, 2020.

Related:

Sharon Brody Twitter News Anchor
Sharon Brody is the voice of WBUR's weekend mornings. On Saturdays and Sundays, she anchors the news for Weekend Edition and other popular programs.

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