With the advent of AirBnB Experiences, Event Bright etc. pretty much anyone can throw a tour up on the internet. Recently I’ve seen some guides out on the street that really shouldn’t be there. Yesterday I saw someone guiding a group on Metro bikes, ill fitting, many without helmets. The guide looked like he was deciding the route on the fly; I could tell because he stopped the group in the middle of an intersection to look at a mural.
First of all, if any adventure tour company in the US doesn’t require you to wear a helmet, you can be sure they do not have liability insurance, and if any serious injury occurs you’re out of luck. Second, if you’re using rental equipment the guide doesn’t know if it is in good repair, which can also endanger guests. Plus a reputable tour operator will check and recheck a route, planning a route based on time, safety, how to maneuver the group through turns, where to situate the group on stops for maximum safety and enjoyability.
When I eves drop on novice guides, which are numerous around Grand Central Market, much of what they’re saying is either made up half truths or stating obvious observable facts, meaning no research or interesting stories to go with sites.
I understand why people might be attracted to a more “authentic” personal experience. Sometimes a long time tour operator and their guides are just going through the motions, or a bus/van tour just plays a prerecorded tape, thats no fun.
Most of the successful guides and tour company owners I’ve met try to personalize the experience for everyone, and are always tweaking and adding to their tours. Any tour operator worth their weight wants to create an interactive atmosphere, most are good citizens who work to improve their cities, belong to professional groups to improve practice, and have their own highly researched narration that is focussed on a themed tour, yet can very from a script to focus on areas of particular interest to the group.
I can tell when a fly-by-night guide walks in to the market by the faces of their guests. A professional is engaging, and their guests look relaxed, entertained and are enjoying each others company. A novice looks unsure, and their guests look confused, nervous and like their being held captive.
How can you tell if you’re going with a professional tour company? They should have their own direct booking website, even if you found them on AirBnB, Expedia Etc. They should have a regular scheduled calendar of tours, and a presence on TripAdvisor. Read the reviews, when you see positive aspects regarding the tour, knowledge, and personality repeated, its probably true.