Confessions of a Lake Como Tour Guide
The work of a tour guide is intense and non-stop. It takes a special person with a charismatic personality to be a tour guide. They have to be entertaining, knowledgeable, patient, diplomatic and expert problem-solvers.
A tour guide not only represents the tour company, but they are ambassadors to the cities and territories they are touring. They are educators teaching visitors about our culture and customs. In difficult situations, they become mother, brother, or protector.
So, how does a tour guide manage to wear all those different hats?
We sat down with Giusy Lucini, one of our steadfast and trusted guides who has been with us at Lake Como Food Tours since the very beginning to find out how it is all possible.
A tour guide in Italy must have a provincial or regional license. Just as any other professional qualification, a guide must go through a rigorous two-year study program, which covers art, history, travel organization, itinerary planning and timing, as well as a period of hands-on practical experience. Giusy prepared for her exams in 2007. She admitted, “I had to do the exam twice. I didn’t pass the first time, so I went back to the books and studied more. I also did more exploration of the Lake Como area, this helped immensely. I was extremely pleased when I passed!” In 2011 Giusy received a second qualification as a tour group leader which allows her to accompany groups in other regions as well as abroad.
What goes on behind the scenes?
What we really wanted to know was what is behind the perfect composure of a tour guide.
She confesses, “The most difficult part of the job is always being bright and cheery. We have our off days too. The guide must always impart calm and serenity. We need to be diplomatic and refrain from saying or doing anything offensive. Having a knowledge of other cultures and traditions is essential.”
Managing group dynamics comes with experience. She told us that over the years she has developed the ability to scan the group and understand by their behavior and body language which people will be helpful, troublemakers, or who might be the most distracted and risk getting lost.
When asked about any specific troubling episodes she said, “No, thank goodness, I haven’t had any major incidents! Most emergencies are detours to pharmacies or arranging for a visitor to return to the hotel because they have fallen ill. When there is bad weather sometimes I have to improvise and make changes to the itinerary.” She recalls with fondness, “One time it was absolutely pouring. It was impossible to walk around town and it was so foggy and grey we couldn’t even see the surrounding mountains! We ducked into a local trattoria that had a fireplace, good food and wine. That was four years ago and one woman from the group still sends me cards thanking me for the most beautiful day of her visit to Italy! People remember the emotions and sensations.”
Working in the Lake Como Area
Lake Como attracts people from all over the world. Lake Como has so much to offer: beautiful landscapes, stunning hotels, magnificent villas and gardens, romantic villages and so much more. People want to see and experience what they have seen on TV and in travel magazines.
The tourism season starts in March and finishes in late October. Giusy explained, “Early in the season many visitors are school groups. Lake Como holds significance in Italian literature, largely due to I Promessi Sposi by Alessandro Manzoni, a classic studied by all Italian students.” She added, “Then in May, June and July the international visitors arrive, predominantly Americans. The Americans love Lake Como, especially Bellagio.”
We asked Giusy if she ever gets tired of the repetition a guide’s job entails.
She told us, “Thanks to this job, I have fallen in love with my homeland because I am able to look at it through the eyes of the visitor. Many of them tell me it’s so beautiful it’s too good to be real!”
We talked about the winter season as well. Staying “open” in the winter is an ongoing debate in the Lake Como area. The larger towns like Como and Lecco are residential cities and always have activities throughout the winter season. However, in other towns and villages, many hotels and businesses close for the winter season.
Giusy shared her insights, “For the past twenty years, the city of Como has held the Città dei Balocchi event where the whole town transforms into a Christmas village. It’s only in recent years that it has become popular with foreign tourists as well. Nevertheless, I have to admit, by November I am already exhausted. Working in the tourist industry is an intense and demanding job. It’s important to take a break from the hectic travelling and strains of this job during the winter months – at least in January and February.”
For a tour guide, choosing a holiday destination is not difficult. Their natural curiosity and ability to get on with people helps them feel at ease anywhere. Giusy likes going to exotic destinations. “This winter I am leading a tour in South Africa, so I will go a week before work begins. I like to both explore on my own and do a local guided tour. It’s also a nice way to meet my international colleagues and exchange ideas and experiences.” she explains.
After many years of constantly using her voice, Giusy suffers from damage to her vocal cords. Often, to get the group’s attention or to speak over background noise, a guide must raise their voice. She explains, “We sometimes have the little radios, which help enormously, but when we are on a boat or when we're not using them, I need to raise my voice and this has strained my vocal cords.” Her bright, positive attitude shines through as she jokingly says, “In compensation, being a tour guide is a good way to stay fit. I do between ten to fourteen thousand steps a day! Perhaps I should do more; it may not be enough to burn off the calories from the lunches and wine tastings we do every day!”
We are so pleased to be working with Giusy, and wish her (and her vocal cords) a well-deserved rest and a relaxing holiday season!
Hopefully, on your next trip to Lake Como you will have the pleasure of meeting her too!