Thursday, June 9, 2011

The Problem with Tours

With an informed docent who isn’t on a tight schedule, a tour can be great: full of good information, colorful tidbits, and fascinating insights. Unfortunately, many tours are rushed and cursory, seemingly with the main objective of getting as many tourists through the site as quickly as possible and for the highest admission fee the traffic will bear. I was reminded of this on a recent tour of Neuschwanstein, King Ludwig of Bavaria’s famous fairytale castle in southern Germany.

Granted, I have been to Neuschwanstein in the past, read up on it, and so may be better informed than the average tourist. Still, I was dismayed at how little our group actually saw, how little was explained (and, given that it was an English-language tour, how little English our guide actually spoke), and how quickly it was all over and we were dumped, of course, into one of the souvenir shops ubiquitous at famous sites. When I’ve huffed my way up the mountain, eschewing horse-drawn carriage or bus transportation, frankly, I expect more from a tour of one of the world’s most famous, if rather silly, landmarks. A twenty-minute walk-through just doesn’t cut it.

I well recall a few years ago taking a walking tour of Savannah, Georgia’s well-known residential squares. In this case, the guide was a young man who’d graduated from SCAD (Savannah College of Art and Design) and so loved his adopted city that he’d stayed on to write a book about its architectural history and to give tours. My partner and I booked the tour online, and the return email designated a square in which to meet the ten-person tour group, ending with the guide’s description that he’d be “the guy with the clipboard.” What a delightful tour—and very informative and interesting.

Savannah’s residential squares probably aren’t as famous as Neuschwanstein. But I would suggest that that’s all the more reason a tour of King Ludwig’s castle ought to be at least as informative and interesting, as colorful and nuanced, as a walk in Savannah.