Tour guide gives an inside look at New Orleans sight-seeing
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Here in New Orleans, a bustling city booming with tourism, there is certainly no shortage of city tours—and to that extent, tour guides. During peak times in the tourism season, it would almost seem that for every tourist there is a tour guide, routinely making their rounds in the central business district and the French Quarter.
Yet one question begs to be answered: Who are these individuals that drive the horse-drawn carriages around, who captain the boats on swamp tours, who spill out the city’s ghoulish history on ghost tours? And, perhaps even more curiously, how did such interesting (and often eccentric) individuals find solace in being tour guides?
“Everybody that does it, they have wildly different backgrounds,” veteran tour guide David Waguespack explained. “I was the youngest one out of [the guides] by—at least—fifteen years. One of them, a retired guy, another guy had odd jobs here and there with offshore drilling, another with a flooring business, real estate agents, part-time teachers, you name it.”
Waguespack embraced the lifestyle of being a tour guide when a family member recommended him to a mom-and-pop company that specialized in swamp tours around Barataria in Lafitte. Since then, he has branched out into city tours as well, delving into obscure and often-neglected forms of New Orleans history to bring out a more memorable and worthwhile experience to locals and tourists alike.
“You do have to learn about the city,” Waguespack said. This sounds easy enough for a local like Waguespack, however, this knowledge goes beyond the glamor of carnival season and the French Quarter, also involving the grittier side of the city—crime, the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, even the city’s infrastructure.
As far as tour guides are concerned, Waguespack could be called a man of many talents, having adopted a jack-of-all-trades mentality in more than one situation. However, this experience came at the price of some necessary training, including a number of licenses and permits. For the more illustrious guide positions, competency tests and even history exams on relevant material are also common.
“If you’re working for a company that works strictly with touring, tests are involved. If you’re a tour guide, [as in] a sightseeing guide, you will have to take a test. Some companies have the employees do a more in-depth test.”
Even though the training may appear to seem arduous at times, Waguespack said the job can be very rewarding if the right attitude is adopted about it.
“After a year into my job, I would start to get really creative…I tried to learn about all of the restaurants, all of the bars, all of the buildings,” Waguespack added that he used to familiarize himself with antiquated New Orleans history in his own time to spice up his tours while on the clock. “Towards the end of it, I started having personal tours.”
Whether it was finding creative ways of getting tips, to sharing with visitors his own personal stories of the Crescent City, Waguespack explained that a lively and personable attitude is the key to success as a tour guide during the on-and-off season.
“If you want to make yourself successful doing something like this, the key is to project a good time onto people. If you’re doing tours for a living, you’re not just talking about [the city] because you have a passion—you’re trying to make money.”
“You also do want to have a bit of a passion for it. You have to talk, be entertaining and get people to ask questions and listen to the tour. You have to know a good bit about New Orleans if you’re going to do it here, that’s for sure.”