USA :London tour guides reinvent their craft due to pandemic

“I don’t know if they know, but we’re living in a pandemic,” jokes Joel Robinson, an actor by training, history buff and tour guide, before starting a tour of East London focusing on Jack the Ripper.

He then explains the distancing practices to a small group of participants and suggests that they wear masks and gloves – although he does not wear them – before entering the alleys of Whitechapel, now well lit and surrounded by modern buildings, behind the scenes. footsteps of the man who murdered five women in 1888 and whose identity was never discovered.

Like Robinson, London tour guides timidly resume their service, forced to adapt to new health regulations against the coronavirus, which limit group sizes.

Since the lack of definition, the origin of the participants has also changed.

The quarantines imposed by the United Kingdom on travelers from many countries have discouraged so many tourists that “we have 80% British among our clients, whereas before 90% were foreigners,” his colleague Olivia Calvert told ..

Anne and Nick Garner, a couple in their fifties who have just arrived from the suburbs of Manchester for a week’s vacation in London, illustrate this radical change.

“We probably would have gone abroad without COVID-19,” acknowledges Anne after touring what were the sordid underworld of Victorian London.

– No more monuments –

This hour and a half visit on the trail of the “Whitechapel murderer” has become one of the most popular of the company London With A Local (London with a Londoner) along with the one dedicated to Harry Potter and one entitled “Sex, Drugs and Rock’n’roll “in the Soho district.

“The British already know the famous landmarks of London, they expect something more” from their tour of the British capital, explains Calvert.

Antony Robbins, a freelance guide affiliated with the high-end Blue Badge network, agrees with her: no more walks from Westminster to Buckingham Palace and from Buckingham Palace to Tower Bridge, due to lack of demand.

Robbins did his first job since March this week, accompanying a young woman and her mother to various restaurants and patisseries in the British capital on a private tour dedicated to “fooding”.

“We are adapting our way of working because we have to,” he explains. “The domestic clientele wants this.”

– Shy recovery –

Although some guides have been able to resume their activity, the situation remains worrying for many of these tourism professionals, most of whom are independent and live in the shadow of the great museums.

Only six London With A Local guides returned to work and the number of weekly tours has been cut in half.

Visits in Spanish, for example, have not resumed, since the United Kingdom included Spain in the list of countries whose travelers are subject to 14 days of quarantine since the end of July.

And when Pepe Martínez, another independent guide affiliated with the Blue Badge network, checks out his accounts, the difference with 2019 is abysmal.

“I made 46 visits in June of last year. This year, I was only able to do eight in the same month. And six of them were virtual,” he exclaims.

The absence of the American clientele, also subject to quarantine, and their habit of giving very generous tips, is leaving a big hole in the pockets, the guides point out.

VisitBritain, the UK tourism promotion agency, estimated this week that the number of foreign visitors will decline by 73% in 2020 and the loss of revenue will be about 24 billion pounds (32 billion dollars, 27 billion euros).

The tourism sector represents four million jobs in the country, three-quarters of which are threatened, warned the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC).