Letters, Week of April 25, 2012

There are more greeters out there

To the Editor:
Re “Not your typical tour, or guide” (news, April 17, 2012)

Big Apple Greeters have their purpose.  New York City has a lagging lingering reputation for unfriendliness, especially from 20 years ago at the peak of NYC’s violent crime rates.  BAG helps address that, and that is wonderful.  Before, during the Crack Crime Epidemic, and now, NYC’s world- renowned Tour Guides serve myriad purposes beyond Big Apple Greeters.

I put heart, passion, and thought into all my tours.  Whether I serve one guest or 700 in a day, I have never been called boring since I went pro in 2005.  I have been giving free tours for 20 years before that on my own, without BAG.

A tour I wrote, “Heroes of the World Trade Center,” that has served thousands of visitors, includes the Guides’ personal perspectives as New Yorkers then and now, as well as stories gleaned from Downtown Express.  These are not rote tales.  We have had to choke back tears or cry while giving this tour.

Often, on the fly, I have to customize a tour that has along a toddler and an Emeritus Professor, or go on a completely different route than what was on the itinerary.   I am in a service business.  BAG does not offer this speed or flexibility.

If I am doing a tour for Engineers, then that tour will be more technical.  Sorry, BAG, but that is what this audience wants.  Even so, If I can, most of my tours include brief references to pop culture and personal anecdotes to liven things up with humor or something resonant.  Good NYC Tour Guides do this.

Each tour guide is different, and the good ones are fun and informative.

I have hundreds of unsolicited good reviews that people sent to my clients or posted online.  I have open invitations to visit homes across the USA, Canada, Australia, South Africa, and Malaysia, among others.  BAG’s volunteers are compelling, too.

BAG, which was battling bankruptcy, has a budget of $1.8 million.  This serves 7000 guests per year at a rate of $257 per guest.  Assuming their average group size is 3, then that is $771 per free tour conducted by free guides.  BAG takes local money and swaps it around, with much of it going to overhead.

A five-hour private tour booked directly through a Tour Guide could bring in about $325 into our local economy.  Booked through an agency that hires locals, this tour would bring in $1000.

I bring money into NYC.  I spend some of this revenue supporting local vendors to grow my business.  I do my work at no expense to New York City government, which I pay taxes to.  Nor do I appeal to corporations or foundations for support.

NYC provides BAG with overhead, such as rent , equipment, and phones, as well as cash support.  Local corporations and foundations are donating funds to BAG, too.  These funds could be supporting local economic development, not volunteer services to tourists who could afford to get here.

I would imagine that for $40,000 BAG could get a website that matches tourists who want free experiences with local volunteers.  Maybe this website can connect New Yorkers to such friendly generous people elsewhere, as well.

Maybe for $100,000 a year BAG could have someone run their website, provide support, and do advertising that does not insult NYC’s professional Tour Guides who are hard-working small businesspeople.

Ironically, B.A.G. has professional Tour Guides as volunteers.

Ironically, sponsors of B.A.G. employ professional NYC Tour Guides to conduct tours on their tour buses and their harbor tour boats.

NYC Tour Guides, and our Association, are members of NYC&Co, another B.A.G. supporter.

Who are NYC’s professional Tour Guides?  We are actors, teachers, office workers, dancers, veterans, church-leaders, retirees, urban spelunkers, and community volunteers (including for BAG).  We are the smallest of small businesses.  We are the face of NYC.

We passed a three-hour, 150 question Department of Consumer Affairs licensing exam that covers the five boroughs.  Some of our licensing requirements includes include traffic regulations and safety.  Many of us buy our own insurance to protect tourists.

We voluntarily work with Community Board 1, and other local bodies, to improve both neighborhoods and tourism.  We work with Downtown Traffic Commissioner Sanchez about getting tour buses moving off the streets of Downtown.  We meet with the MTA to get tourists’ buses and cabs away from Downtown streets.  We do much more.

We serve millions of diverse tourists who want diverse things, often with little to no advance notice.  BAG requires weeks’ notice.  Tour Guides are as good as our last tour.  We scrape to get and keep business, and keep costs low.  We don’t have political connections who have industry connections to provide free funds, overhead, staff, and advertising.

I don’t understand why the Big Apple Greeters insult NYC’s tour guides both locally in your paper and in advertisements around the world.  The best Guides and Greeters let our personalities shine through and across the Big Apple.
Jared the NYC Tour Guide Goldstein

Politics, or truth?

It is unfortunate that politics brings out the negative side of people running for office  as was obvious in Paul Hovitz’s letter about “Abuse of Power..”

He took this period prior to the election of five new members of the board at Southbridge Towers in which he is a candidate to insidiously attack the five current members of the board who are running for re-election.

He has done this by omissions, distortions, and promoting partisanly   the issue of privatization that is current  at SBT. His arguments surround the issue that was recently voted on by the board whether to allow an activist group in this privatization struggle to use the community room for a discussion.The board legally voted after the five candidates were EXCUSED, which he didn’t mention. The reason given for the vote by the voting member majority was that there was legally in place a board gag order  and since all the parties could not participate in the public discussion,

it would unfair to bar the board members until the gag order is lifted when the Black Book is issued.

I noticed Mr. Hovitz did not mention previous times when the Mitchell/Lama group was allowed to use the community room. Of course, if they really need a space at this time when everything is quiet awaiting the next step in the privatization, they could rent one.

What becomes obvious in Mr.Hovitz’s letter is to promote himself as a watchdog, paint a corrupt board needing a change, subtly supporting the opposition to co-operators owning their own apartments all of which could not be further from the truth. The current board took over after voting out a clique who rarely ran open meetings, treated anyone who disagreed with impolite abruptness, was opaque and secretive about  negotiations and finances some of whom were investigated by the district attorney for corrupt dealings.

To attack our current board is an insult to everyone living at Southbridge who has seen wonderful improvements inside and out. These include state of the art new windows, top security system, new intercoms, painted halls and new floor tiles, beautiful landscaping of plantings and borders, renovated play areas and child service places,a totally newly renovated ,clean garage with  polite efficient service that costs more but is worth it in what I save by not having to wash my car almost every time I take it out and ease of access.

Mr Hovitz’s timing and grossly distorted content and unfounded complaints should draw a picture of how to judge him.
Sy Schleimer

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One Response to Letters, Week of April 25, 2012

  1. Carolyn T. Stone

    The point of the Big Apple Greeter program seems to have been missed here. The Greeter experience is not a "tour"; it is called a "visit", and the Greeters are NOT tour guides. They are simply New Yorkers who want city visitors to meet a local, with no profit motive attached. The best analogy to the Big Apple Greeter experience would be if a New Yorker were visiting, say, Berlin, and knowing no one in Germany, followed up on his co-worker's introduction to his cousin Franz, who happens to be a Berliner, and Franz showed him around his neighborhood and explained the mass transit. It doesn't mean that the New Yorker doesn't take a guided bus or other tour whilst in Berlin.
    Another very important point overlooked is that Big Apple Greeter is a vehicle to create positive publicity about New Yorkers as caring, generous people; this is accomplished only because the BAG visits are completely free-of-charge. If they were paid tours, there's no "caring, generous New Yorkers" story, and thus, no positive publicity which draws tourists to the Big Apple, where they spend millions of dollars on tours, tour guides, hotels, restaurants, shopping, etc.
    If potential NYC tourists believe we only like them for their money – well, they might not come here and spend their money!
    New York City's licensed tour guides are an amazing, wonderful, interesting and hard-working group of people, and an undeniable asset to our city. But comparing them to the Big Apple Greeter organization is like comparing apples and oranges… the city needs both and they are not competitors.

    Carolyn T. Stone
    (Former Director of Marketing & Public Relations for Big Apple Greeter)

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