Illegal guides are a big problem for Moscow
Vice President of the Association of Tourist Guides Marina Kressova discussed how Moscow has become more attractive for foreign guests, the flipside of Chinese tourist flow, and the long awaited ammendments in the Law on Tourism including The Russian Federation citizenship and training requirements for guides in an interview with Capital Ideas.
Ms. Kressova, how appealing do you think Moscow is for tourists? What kind of impression does the city leave on our guests?
I can honestly say that foreigners come here absolutely unprepared for what they’re about to see. This is a positive, exciting shock. They just exclaim “Wow!” – I’m totally serious. Moscow is beautiful and open, there is a lot of space here and it’s convenient for travellers —well developed transportation system , free access to wi-fi, entertaining events. In contrast with us, who plead : “let’s us show the architecture, take down these colorful garlands on Nikolskaya Street”, our guests say “Wow, this is beautiful!”.
Moscow, unlike Saint Petersburg, is unpredictable. Foreigners aren’t prepared for it and don’t know what to expect. Even Red Square is always different depending on events or celebrations— it can be blocked and stuck with pavilions, stages or even boxing rings. And I’m not even talking about the 2018 World Cup, when just about everything was allowed.
I read a lot about how foreigners who came to Moscow for the World Cup were very impressed. Is this true, or just good PR?
It’s totally true! The championship was fantastic. The guides may have a few gripes, since we didn’t have set work – people came on their own, rented rooms in hostels, apartments, and so on. But Moscow was very beautiful and convenient for guests, and the atmosphere was phenomenal.
But the fairy tale was over! For example, now Muzeon Park only lets their own guides do tours, though is an open space and part of public Gorky Park. If a guide takes a group to the new Tretyakov Gallery on Krymsky Val, via Muzeon and can’t help but talk about the country’s Soviet past, about Lenin, Dzerzhinsky, Brezhnev. But the Museon Park security would come and start saying that guides have no right to do tours.
The metro put restrictions on tours as well recently?
Yes, there were surprises from the metro as well. They banned tours during rush hour, from 4.00pm to 8.00pm. Plus, the group number should not exceed 20 people. But how can you have a group of 20 when there are 35 tourists sitting on the bus? The metro is also trying to train their own guides and introduce license.
There was a scandal when a licensed guide was detained at Kievskaya metro station, taken to the metro’s office of Police, accused of practicing illegal entrepreneurial activities, held for two hours, and charged with an administrative fine for 300 rubles. This whole time, an Italian tour group of 17 people waited for her on the platform with no guide. They didn’t even let her call and warn the driver about ,what had happened.
It’s really unfortunate that such incidents happen while Moscow Government is doing so much to turn Moscow into a welcoming city.
Apparently cracking down on illegal guides is a priority?
Of course this is a big problem for Moscow. There are a lot of illegals, and, unfortunately, they’re definitely not guides. They are escorts who come with groups from Mexico, for example.
Almost all Chinese tourists are handled by illegal guides. Tourist flows are very big, and about 1 million Chinese people come to the city. But these volumes contribute nothing to the city budget. The tourists are greeted by Chinese representatives, they live in Chinese hotels, eat in Chinese restaurants, all in their own cash. The city just does not get that money.
The Bill “On the Fundamentals of Tourism in the Russian Federation” is ready and has been approved by the Government, and is about to be introduced at the State Duma. Will it resolve this issue?
It will definitely help. A key point of this law defines a guide as a trained professional who is a Russian citizen and has completed a certification program. Citizenship is important, since a guide is a person who represents the Country’s cultural and historical heritage, as well as its resources.
I always promote the Golden Ring of Russia destination as an example. I’m not going to guide tours at the museums in Suzdal and Uglich, although the material is simple to learn for a Moscow guide. Nor will I be allowed by local administrations. There are local guides, and how can we take work away from them? A guide’s profession is not only about knowledge, it’s also about love. If you live in a small place that you love and know like the back of your hand, an outsider guide has nothing to say about this village. Travellers spend money on authentic experiences. The whole world understands this.
You mentioned licenses for guides. Are they difficult to get?
It’s pretty difficult in Moscow, we take licensing seriously. Licenses are called Accreditation and the City Government has a special Council for this purpose. The candidate must have a university degree and complete a course of professional education as a Tourist Guide – a total of about 260 hours. The Accreditation Council includes experts that represent inbound and outbound tourism, the Committee for Culture , Museum experts, University professors, and language specialists. The candidates take complex exams: there is an essay contest in history, geography, and art tests. The competition is tough, and the number of vacancies is limited. But there is always a good chance to become a guide. For example, right now we need guides who speak Farsi or Hindi.
Are there really that many tourists from India?
There are a lot of tourists. I think that the increase in the num opportunity to observe and marvel. They need to be taken to parks, not museums.
Zaryadye Park is a major relief in this case. There is fresh air, excellent views, and interesting attractions like the Floating Bridge, which is a great spot to take photos. You can let people go walk around and feel like they are free in this city.
Overall, what is your assessment of Moscow guides today?
The level of guides’ education varies to a great extent. Apart from the basic humanitarian education , guides need to have deep knowledge history and rely on true and authentic sources.
However, there are a lot of anecdotes about all sort of jokes an funny stories, guides entertain their tourists with. . For example ,,Novodevichy Museum Director said that she had personally overheard a guide tell tourists that Petr Tchaikovsky used to sit by the pond here writing the ballet “Swan Lake.”
A guide should only use trusted sources, because they are responsible for the information they provide. Even if the subject is African Summit in Sochi, they must know all about it. Not because they need to give tourists political updates on the bus, but because expect ton learn about different things – Vladimir Putin’s biography, for example. It’s not like when everyone was obligated to know Lenin’s biography by heart, but guides need to be informed and prepared to deliver correct information.
I can say that the overall level of licensed Moscow guides is very high, and we take this very seriously. Aside from creating the content for tours, guides need to know about Moscow’s architecture, from ancient Byzantine style, Naryshkin or Moscow Baroque, Classicism, Modern architecture. It’s very important in the context of Moscow to talk about the history of the Russian State, since it’s relevant to what surrounds us – that’s what our cultural and historical heritage is.
The most important thing in our profession is love. This work is about being connected to your home, region and sharing your love with guests and visitors. Tourism is an Industry of Impressions, and only Impressions can increase tourist flows to our city.