GANYC members are likely very familiar by now with controversial new regulations barring guided tours from areas of the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. In effect May 16, these regulations ban commercial tours from the new Statue of Liberty museum, the Statue's pedestal, as well as the buildings on Ellis Island. Some exceptions will be made during inclimate weather or in the cold winter months, where guides can make a brief intro indoors.
GANYC made several compromise offers to the NPS-- a certification program for guides touring at these sites, a code of conduct for guides, etc-- and unfortunately we did not receive a favorable response.
Professional, licensed guides have nothing but respect for National Parks (one of the crown jewels of this great nation) and its amazing rangers, but they cannot meet the demand of increased visitors to sites like the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, and other great sites. Professional commercial tour operators fill that gap.
Guides are with visitors every step of their journey— from the security queues in Battery Park (which involves navigating a mess of predatory third-party ticket vendors that the city seems unable or unwilling to do anything about) to helping move groups on and off the boats to navigating the islands themselves— ensuring efficiency. We offer a full-service experience: customer service, answering questions, and acting as ambassadors of this rich history. Audio guides and plaques cannot answer questions, they cannot share their stories and humanity, they cannot provide that human touch that make lasting memories and connections to a place.
Moreover, the NYC guide community has professionals who speak every language. GANYC itself first began as a multilingual guides association. Visitors, foreign or otherwise, crave a customized & time-sensitive experience that the audio devices & rangers just cannot provide, despite best intentions. Foreign guests more than most will be hurt by this ban.
As concern overcrowding and "over-tourism" grows, it pushes more & more public sentiment against tourism altogether. Commercial tours are not the cause of overcrowding in big travel destinations, but, with our flags and umbrellas and lightsabers, we are the most visible and easy scapegoat.
And it is not just Liberty & Ellis Islands. In the past year, we have seen record crowds in NYC from the Brooklyn Bridge, Rockefeller Center, down in Dyker Heights during Christmas, and many other places. Will calls for bans for tours at those locations come soon? If the city doesn't take preemptive action to make NYC more friendly-- a reprioritization of public space, a new model of urban planning-- then perhaps they will.
GANYC remains committed to finding solutions, as we are on the ground every day with the tourist experience. As we were reminded during our recent trip to Washington DC for Destination Capitol Hill, 15.7 million American jobs and $2.5 trillion in economic output annually are created by the travel industry, as are 1 in 10 US jobs. What we do matters. The growing antipathy toward tourists will keep resulting in more bans and attacks on our profession if we do not keep standing up and pushing forward.
GANYC remains committed to working with any city or federal agency that want solutions, and not shortsighted restrictions.