With city’s tour agencies looking to up their headcount, there couldn’t be a better time to be a guide. Here’s what it takes

Recently, Bharat Gothoskar, founder of Khaki Tours, that conducts walks across the city, uploaded a post on social media calling for entries for the post of ‘Mumbai’s ambassador’. The criteria was simple — an articulate individual with an undying love for the city, with an equal passion for heritage. Within a week, the post generated 40 requests. The target, however, is 100.

“I don’t like the term tour guides because the job exceeds that. We are unearthing and narrating the city’s lost stories, so I prefer calling them heritage evangelists, who can convert people into lovers of history and culture,” says Gothoskar. The 43-year-old launched the organisation in 2015. What started as once-a-month event, today, holds around ten events a week. “We realised we aren’t able to meet the growing demand,” he adds. So, what does it take to be an ambassador for the city? We reach out to Mumbai’s best travel guides for answers.

You don’t need no education

What Wasim Shaikh, founder of Active Holidays, a travel curation agency, looks for in a prospective candidate is not a degree in travel management, but a love for the city. “You could be a 10th std pass, but in this profession, it doesn’t matter as long as you are articulate, energetic, patient and of course, presentable. It’s utterly important that you are well turned out because you are not just representing the company but also the city,” he says. Shaikh’s tours include a walk through Dharavi, one with dabbawalas and also a Bollywood excursion, where you are taken on the sets of a film. Shaikh says the novices normally accompany a seasoned guide until they learn the ropes.

Know your city

Gothoskar says the emphasis is on knowledge of the city. In fact, they have a library stacked with books in English, Hindi, Gujarati and Marathi. They also speak with historians and experts to create a solid knowledge base about the place they will be taking tourists to. Sukhmani Singh, founder of Seek Sherpa, recalls how a Bandra resident who had been living in the area for over 30 years, discovered something new about the place during a walk conducted by the agency. “You need to get past the fluff and dig deep. If you make locals see the city in a new light then you’ve achieved your goal,” she says.

Make it personal

“Take your guest around, like you would an old friend,” says Shaikh, who normally asks clients to fill in details about interest, dietary habits and hobbies in order to tailor the tour as per their tastes. “If we are going to Elephanta Caves, I take guests for breakfast to Sahakari Bhandar at Colaba, if they are vegetarians, and to Olympia if they are non-vegetarians. Both these places are well-known,” he says. While Sahakari Bhandar is popular for authentic Maharashtrian items like misal pav and puri bhaji, Olympia is one of the iconic Muslim Chiliya restaurants in Mumbai.

It’s for the underlying personal element, that Singh and co-founder founder Dhruv Raj Gupta decided to call theirguides Sherpa. “You embody the spirit of a Sherpa who is more of a companion. S/he lives and breathes that place, and is somebody you can trust,” she says.

Be prepared for the worst

Singh says it’s mandatory to have plan B. “If you are taking guests to an art gallery, and you realise it’s shut, you need to figure a replacement immediately,” she says. Shaikh, too, says it’s in moments such as these that the tour guide’s ability to think on the feet is put to test. “You can’t get hassled. The guest is paying you for the experience, so you need to give the best. Even if the back-up option is more expensive, it’s alright,” he says.