Published on : Friday, December 20, 2013
Bookstores sell an ample assortment of travel guides, but it may still be hard to avoid a slight twitch of apprehension when taking off for faraway lands we know little about. Wouldn’t it be nice to have friends expecting you on the five continents? Well, you have: you haven’t met them yet, but they are called “Greeters” and are looking forward to treating inquisitive tourists to a warm welcome in their city. Meet them, and your postcards from your next trip will have faces!
An out-of-the-ordinary meeting
Tourists typically flock to the best-known sights in the cities they visit, i.e. the first ones that spring to mind when you think of a place: Machu Picchu in Peru, Tiananmen Square in Beijing, the Statue of Liberty in New York and so forth. But Peruvians don’t live in Machu Picchu, and Parisians rarely saunter along the Champs-Elysées for fun. That’s why the people living in a city rarely cross paths with the people visiting it.
… And, when they do, they don’t see each other—which, again, is hardly surprising: the former are usually squinting into cameras and the latter are most probably dashing someplace. Tourists feel like they are strolling through postcard land, and people living in the city are too busy to enjoy the splendid backdrop encircling them. At the end of the day, it’s as if they were in two different cities.
Today, however, Greeters are putting tourists and locals in touch with each other.
Greeters do just that: they greet. The idea is very simple: people living in a city are happy to show foreigners around the neighborhood they know, sometimes in small groups, sometimes one-to-one. They are not historians, guides or tourism professionals: they do it pro-bono, simply because they love and are proud of their city.
The world is your oyster
Friends or family abroad always provide a great opportunity to travel. VFR is one of the travel trends in the spotlight today, inter alia because it is economical and eco-responsible.
An Amadeus-Frost & Sullivan survey has found that 43% of Indians travelling abroad (excluding business travelers) say that the first reason for doing so it to visit friends and relatives. And, with 25 to 100 million Indians living in the diaspora (depending on which source you use), you can’t blame them! Free accommodation is only one of the many advantages of this type of holiday, and Greeters have understood that.
So what are the other advantages? First, tourists get to see places that travel guides overlook: the quaint side streets, family restaurants or up-and-coming bars, for example. But, more importantly, Greeters treat guests to a total immersion in the local culture. Tourists follow their new friends to explore daily life in their city—which is also a great way of thinking again about stereotypes!
There is something in it for Greeters too. That was actually how the concept started in the 1990s when Lynn Brooks, a New Yorker, set out to wrong-foot the unflattering image that tourists had of her city (violent, polluted, etc.). That was when she decided to take visitors by the hand and show them how awesome that world-famous city really is.
Helping to build a “lasting positive image of each destination” is still one of the Global Greeter Network’s core values today.
There are Greeters in 50 or so destinations, in about 19 countries.
The Parisien d’un jour – Paris Greeters network recently started organizing visits for tourists who are curious about the French capital’s working-class ‘hoods. Seine-Saint-Denis, just north of Paris, has a reputation akin to that of Lynn Brooks’ New York. But Markus from Germany, Georgina from the US and Marie-France from Canada have fond memories of it after touring it with their Greeter. France has no fewer than 20 Greeter communities countrywide to cater to anyone fond of anything French.
Cicerones de Buenos Aires , over in Argentina, are the only Greeter community in Latin America. In 2011, this non-profit had 70 volunteers, who had organized more than 2,000 outings over the past 7 years. Its President, Joaquín Brenman, remembers a Panamanian guests who wanted to tour sites associated with Roberto Juarroz, a poet. “I had to get up to speed, because I didn’t know him,” this porteño told La Naciόn, a local newspaper.
Shanghai Greeters is a brand-new Greeter community. On April 15 this year, A-mei and Zoé, two Shanghaians, met their first tourist, a Californian. As the museum they wanted to visit was shut, they decided to eat steamed buns in a nearby joint and, in the course of the conversation, found they were all crazy about zombie-related films and videogames! A-mei was delighted with the experience and is looking forward to meeting other tourists soon.
The Tel-Aviv Greeters’ Facebook page has plenty of ‘postcards’ of Greeters with their guests from around the world (Belgium, Sydney, Rhode Island, Singapore, etc.), featuring countless shiny happy people.
Greeters treat guests to much more than a tour in a foreign city. And they sometimes get a lot in return. Buenos-Aires-born Joaquín Brenman has befriended several of his guests, and stayed with one of them on a trip to Canada once.
Tags: Hotel News