Jim Dykes, NYC tourguide talks about the changing economics of New York City Tourism: Websites with mis-information & smart phones and a flood of new guides making it difficult for older guides to compete

New York City surpassed Disney several years ago as the top tourist destination in the United States and I witnessed it because I’ve been a personal & private New York City tourguide for many years.  I do specialty tours of neighborhoods and “step-on” tours (on their buses) for church and school groups, tour & travel agency groups, cruise ship groups, convention & corporate groups. And from time to time, I will give tours to families and individuals who find my website (www.JimDykesNYC.com ) and sometimes V.I.P.s. I did a private tour for the Royal family of Saudi Arabia!

As everyone knows, New York began it’s massive cleanup and re-birth during the administration of Mayor Rudolph Giuliani when he declared war on the smut purveyors who had nearly destroyed Times Square and the Broadway theatre district.  His slogan still rings in my ears: “I promise you a cleaner, brighter, safer New York…starting with Times Square.”  And he did it.  His master plan involved bringing Disney and other big companies into Times Square to work their corporate magic. Hilton and Westin Hotels, American Airlines, McDonalds, Ford and many other companies each took a dilapidated theatre or piece of real estate and turned it around.  Disney CEO Michael Eisner, a personal  friend of Giuliani, surprised everyone by taking the once glorious and horribly run-down New Amsterdam Theatre (once home to the Ziegfeld Follies) and spending a King’s ransom to restore it to its 1903 grandeur. It’s location on 42nd Street became the centerpiece of the New York renaissance.

It makes me smile because when I started doing tours of New York, most people had to be convinced to visit here. New York City was known as a dirty and dangerous destination, with crime around every corner and sleazy theatres and porno stores everywhere.  In my early 20s I tried on many hats...I worked as an editor, I worked at Macy's (Christmas Santa), I was in the Macy's parade, I worked as a "temp" in offices with a 9-5 schedule, I worked at Radio City Music Hall and I worked for a Broadway producer behind the scenes. This variety of experience was great for showing people NYC. When I started doing tours there were basically a couple of bus tour companies in New York…, neither was known for giving particularly good, interesting or entertaining tours. There was definitely a market for independent guides who were knowledgeable and fun and there were only a few of us--we became known as the “best” guides in NYC. Word spread and travel agents and tour companies called us…we were all kept as busy as we wanted to be especially as the city recovered in the post-Giuliani years. Things were booming for all of us but now my business is curiously down, even though tourism is exploding in New York and the internet is largely to blame.

Today with the internet and smart phones now a reality, everyone advertises themselves as the BEST and the tourists really have no idea…anybody can say anything and boast about themselves and if you have a slick website, and spend money advertising on google,  tourists see it online and click on it and think they are getting an expert guide.  People in our industry come and go because the good guides make it look easy and many people think all they have to do is get on a microphone and spout information.  They find out right away that personality, charm, KNOWLEDGE and humor are requirements as well as reading a LOT of books and keeping up with the daily news headlines.

As the years have gone by however, our industry has been FLOODED with many new guides…some are good but many are really  inferior. I believe the reason are these commercial double-decker tour bus companies:  they hire a crop of new people every summer and pay them very cheaply.  They give them fact sheets and when the summer “peak tour season” is over, they are all laid off and now they are suddenly competing with the experienced guides like myself. They set up clever websites with dubious credentials and the tourists don’t know any better…especially if their  price is cheap. Another guide friend of mine who has been guiding for over 30 years said to me: "I survived the tourism slump that followed 9/11, I survived a couple of recessions, but some days I wonder if I will survive the mis-information on the internet!"
 Well, at least we have sites like Trip Advisor, where I have a 5-star rating.


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