January 23, 2018

Lack of advertising among tourists hurts government’s impressive sightseeing programme

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

BA City’s free English tours fail to draw the masses

A man stands alone on in the port area of Puerto Madero, Buenos Aires.
A man stands alone on in the port area of Puerto Madero, Buenos Aires.
A man stands alone on in the port area of Puerto Madero, Buenos Aires.
By Orlando Jenkinson
Herald Staff

Qualified guides, fascinating history, beautiful sights — the only thing missing is the tourists

Great weather, fascinating history, beautiful sights and a vast expanse of urban jungle to explore. The Buenos Aires City government’s new and expansive programme of guided tours spanning dozens of neighbourhoods across the City, free of charge and in both English and Spanish, was launched recently and seems to include all the necessary ingredients for an ideal way to reinvigorate tourism in Argentina’s capital. The only thing missing? The tourists.

A cold and blustery day, nonetheless bathed in sunshine, greeted the start of the free tour of La Boca last Wednesday, sponsored by the City government as part of a major new initiative to encourage sightseeing and multilingual tourism in BA City.

“Here we are in La Boca!” Belén, the tour guide, beams through the bone-chilling wind at the lone journalist who makes up today’s tour.

During the one-and-a-bit hours that constitute the fleeting and informative journey through some of La Boca’s most notable sights and folklore, there was no hint that the absence of the central ingredient for any event such as this — the tourists — was putting the City tour guide out of her stride.

Anecdotes about local hero Benito Quinquela Martín, the brightly painted walls of El Caminito and how La Boca’s most famous residents — Boca Juniors Football Club — got their iconic blue and gold colours (a ship flying the Swedish national flag was the first to enter the old port, so legend has it) abound during the tranquil stroll through the neighbourhood.

Indeed, ahead of earning their distinctive yellow body warmers, in-keeping with the City government’s chosen colour theme, the crack team of tour guides recruited by City Hall completed a rigorous training programme of historical and cultural knowledge alongside extensive language tests — English and Portuguese tours make up a large proportion of those on offer daily under the new scheme.

“We’re given tours to do every working day and they might be anywhere, so we have to be confident about this stuff,” Belén informs as we stroll past the Quinquela Martín Museum on the waterfront and through the coloured conventillos of the famous El Caminto district.


People like Belén form the backbone of Mayor Horacio Rodríguez Larreta’s ambitious new tourism drive which has commissioned the provision of a multitude of daily guided tours spanning Buenos Aires City; free and open to the public.

According to a City government press release, the goal is to come up with “a programme that invites residents and tourists to visit all the neighbourhoods of Buenos Aires, discovering the history and attraction of each of them.”

Launched in February, City Hall statistics to which the Herald had access show that hundreds of tourists and residents of the City have opted for each of the tours — of which there is an exhaustible list to choose from.

Tours of all the most iconic neighbourhoods from La Boca to Recoleta and key historic zones like Plaza de Mayo square are available on selected days throughout the week, while more extensive “urban trekking” all-day routes spanning the City plus special interest and alternative excursions, such as the papal circuit or Buenos Aires by night tours, have also been introduced under the new scheme.

Further, the City government has tapped into the growing popularity of cycling tours in the increasingly pushbike friendly Buenos Aires and offers “guided mountain bike trips over two hours conducted in Spanish, English and Portuguese through the neighborhoods of La Boca Puerto Madero and Palermo,” all for 150 pesos per person.

However, with this magnitude of options, on the current evidence the programme might be suffering from overreach.

A second free guided tour in English, this time through uptown Recoleta and the consistently popular and famous neighbourhood cemetery, yielded similar results last Thursday.

One enthusiastic tour guide, one expectant reporter, no tourists. None, that is, in this particular tour. As we strolled through the eerie avenues of tombs and statuettes laid out in a grid like a deathly clone of the BA City itself, other foreign language tours could be heard on all sides.

As before, our guide through the cemetery was completely unperturbed by the strange circumstances of playing for a shadow audience and pushed on with an endless list of anecdotes and facts, at times funny and fascinating in equal measure.

Yet the masses of eager tourists and locals drinking in alternative tours to our left and right suggested that for all the effort and enthusiasm from the City government team behind the sweeping new foreign language tourism drive in the City, a lack of publicity awareness marketing about the new tourism opportunities has hampered its progress so far.

All one can do is suggest that the reader take a brielfy informed chance on the free tours and turn up. Who knows? You might discover something previously unknown to most, uncover something that few others would notice or, at the least, earn yourself a free, intimate and informative journey through one of the City’s countless and charming neighbourhoods.


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