One of the things I’ve been meaning to do for a really long while is update this blog. So much has happened since the last time I managed to do one. The big one of course is the end of City of Culture, and given the big half-term report I did, you might have expected me to write a piece looking back and analysing how it went. To be honest I expected that I would have done that too, especially as I joined up to be a volunteer City Host towards the end. But after doing over 40 shifts in less than two months, I stopped almost as suddenly. There were a few reasons for that, but the biggest one is that I simply cannot afford the cost of voluntary work right now.
Last year, I had this daft idea of setting up as a tour guide in Coventry just as we were coming out of a global pandemic! It was an idea I first had 25 years earlier when I worked at the Students’ Union on Priory Street as I’d go out into the City Centre for whatever reason at dinner time, see the coaches arrive at the Cathedral, but when I came back less than an hour later, they were leaving. Basically, they were coming to Coventry for a glorified toilet stop.
So the idea was that City of Culture would bring more tourists into the city. And it did. Sort of. Because the thing that was most obvious to me is that whilst in August, September, October 2021 there were loads of tourists coming in from outside the City and the local area. But when we got into 2022 that fell off a cliff, but there were still loads of people doing the walks from Coventry and the surrounding areas and the private tours started coming in too, so it wasn’t so bad.
And I’ve really enjoyed it. For me, after doing a job which mostly consisted of sitting at home flitting between my keyboard and phone for ten years, getting out and meeting people has been such a brilliant thing. And that’s not just the people coming on the tours, but all the people who are part of the furniture and can be found dotted around the attractions and streets of the city, many of whom have been commenting that they’ve been seeing a lot less of me recently….
Because when City of Culture ended – in fact even before then – most the work just dropped off a cliff, and now it’s almost stone dead. And it’s not just me, we’ve had a bash at getting all of us tour guides in the city together to see if there are things we can work together on, but others have already given up, with one saying he didn’t get a single booking over Easter. There is another guide who to the untrained eye seems to be running the same tour from the same place at the same time as me on Saturday mornings. And although a couple of times it was me who wasn’t there, I haven’t seen her for over two months.
I was probably in the worst position of all the guides for City of Culture ending though, because most of my tickets were sold through them and being on their website gave publicity I could never hope to recreate on my own, and despite all the problems I had with the ticketing system, when the payments did eventually turn up (and it always was ‘eventually’), they were commission free.
And of course two other things went wrong at the same time. Firstly, TripAdvisor changed how they list things, so I was no longer on the list of people giving guided walks in Coventry. To get on that list, you had to sell tickets through Tripadvisor, meaning a load of absentee apps have arrived, some which have dozens of photos, none of which are actually of Coventry. So to stay where people can find me on Tripadvisor, I’ve had to start selling tickets through them, with them taking a whopping a 26% commission. So the moral of the story there is, please feel free to rate me on Tripadvisor, but please don’t buy tickets there!
The second thing that went wrong to coincide with City of Culture ending was the Visit Coventry website changing, meaning for a while I mostly dropped of that. Though everything seems not only to be back on track there, but better than before just in time for the Commonwealth Games – and I really have to thank everyone at what I think we’re now calling ‘Discover Coventry’ for that, and especially everyone on the frontline at the Visitor Information Centre. Though even if a ten minute chat there can turn into an hour without anyone noticing.
Maybe the real issue is probably the cost of living crisis, especially with the complete contradiction that everyone is short of cash and I’ve had to put my prices up – but even that’s not to make more money, it’s to soften the drop due to higher commissions and other increased costs at my end.
So for now, I’ve actually gone to the point of saying I’d offer a tour everyday – no sorry – that I’d offer two tours every single day until the end of October. Obviously some of those days will get cancelled and as some of you might have spotted I’ve started doing online livestream tours in an attempt not only to diversify, but also to help promote Coventry and the wider area to international tourist on Heygo. On top of that, I’ve started selling tools on Facebook and Gumtree, so if you need a hedge trimmer or the like, click on those links!
The bottom line is that for now at least, I’m now committed. It’s summer. I’ve got to at least see this through, but when July has performed worse than October, it’s not looking like this will turn out to be a sustainable profession.
So when I started off this blog saying I wasn’t looking back and doing an analysis of City of Culture, maybe I am. My worry was always what was going to happen after the circus left town, would there be a sustainable legacy going forward for those of us left behind? But when you’ve had City of Culture and not just afterwards -but during – the tour guides based in that City are struggling and giving up, what does that say about the legacy in terms of attracting more tourists?
So here’s to things picking up in August!