The tour guide and the territory

Who is the guide?

Once he/she would be called bear leader: the one leading you by the hand to discover unknown treasures and beauties produced by various generations and ravishing both the eye and the soul. Your guide must recount you about history, or rather stories, for you to experience the encounter with the genius loci, something belonging specifically to that place thus unique and unrepeatable. A good guide must be well trained and informed, a local expert, and must always be able to adapt the communication to the age, culture and language of people in front of his in order to make them experience something that could not exist that way elsewhere.

Ad personam service and mass tourism

The guide is the key to accessing the territory for those who intend to travel as an experience of knowledge, a sort of ambassador-discloser, but on the other hand, there is the “haste” of mass tourism: visiting a city in a few snapshots. The line between superficiality and effectiveness is very frail and the guide must juggle not to get trapped between the consumption of a stereotyped image and the digestion of iconic contents: that’s where the meaning of our work is played. Guides, tour leaders, large and small operators: the meeting is a collaboration between different professions and this is how it should be. Instead, unclear rules complicate things.

Lunghe file al Colosseo
Long line to the Colosseum
The point about the rules.  Tour leader, local guide and national guide

Since 2001, Italy has implemented the Bolkestein directive on free circulation of services in the EU, including tourism. In some countries, it was already difficult to distinguish between the professions of guide and tour leader. The latter is a profession that is more technically oriented towards travel management, a sort of personal assistant with specific knowledge and training experience for a nonchalant operation towards the needs of the traveler or a group. Rightly, the professional qualification of the tour leader is valid on the whole national and UE territory, without prejudice to language skills. The job of the guide instead requires a specific competence dedicated to a certain territory which, in Italy above all, can only be restricted due to the vastness of the topics and the immensity of the Heritage.

With the abolition of the Ministry of Tourism in 1993 later followed by the modification of Title V of the Constitution in 2001, Regions have been made in charge of regulating this sector, therefore operating independently however often such lead to little consultation and issued paradoxes and confusion.


From being local guides, according to the Region of origin, the guides have become national; as a result, in some Regions, the examination to obtain the qualification has been focused strictly on themes inherent to the very same territory although the licence has value on the whole country resulting into unavoidable troubles regarding the profession. Other Regions, instead, have simply stopped issuing licenses.

This regulatory limbo fosters the abuse, dangerous both for those who work respecting the rules and for the visitor who often finds himself prey to illegal brokers, procurers, outside the sites. Furthermore, there is no clarity on costs, service quality, final destination of proceeds and if the tour be held out or not. Now we are at the point where new proposals of parliamentary Initiative, named S 1921 and S 2087, are being discussed by the Tourism Commission of the State-Regions Conference.

The main issue under discussion is the definition of the territorial area of competence of the guide: limited, as it was before 2001, or referred to the entire national territory (provided it be possible) and therefore what should be the training process to achieve the qualification: an exam, an ad hoc academic path or else.

New Ministry of Tourism or Cultural Heritage?

Now by guide we mean a service to tourism, but to the operators, the relationship with the world of cultural heritage is daily, often the guides are the first channel to the disclosure of heritage, so it is necessary to find out how much the link with the tourism supply chain is a priority as respect to the one with cultural heritage: in recent years, the Ministry of reference, even for the granting of subsidies during the pandemic, has been the latter. What is needed is better consultation between the two areas, which are worth a very significant part of this country’s GDP, as well as constituting its “business card”. But it is precisely the binomial divulgation-valorization that remains one of the weak points of Cultural Heritage.

Over the years, the first focus has been on their recognition and protection, and then to an adequate exposure and much less on their promotion. There have been few valid or far-sighted initiatives. In some cases, it has been decided to offer free guide services managed by volunteers in order to stimulate the knowledge of the various sites with the effect of guaranteeing outcomes of dubious quality. In fact, it’s one thing for an operator to offer a service free of charge (for solidarity reasons, for example), but it’s another for a public institution to use unpaid ‘manpower’, creating a form of unfair competition towards an entire professional category and implying the irrelevance of specialized professionalism.

The solution, however, is always there: consulting with trade associations and unions to manage the matter together, to ensure quality of service, professionalism and to create synergies instead of marginalizing.

Pietrantonio Mattei

Art Historian. Official guide of Rome since 1999. Curator of exibitions and catalogues for various artists. From 2002 to 2010 he organized art tecnics courses with Amministration of Detention Centre of Rebibbia, he directed Art and Architecture history at ACS Uniduemila. From 1998 to 2001 he collaborated to the education program with Ostia Antica archeological park.