Each winter, we celebrate Rick Steves’ Europe Tours with tour alum reunion parties, a tour guide summit, and a series of travel talks called “Test Drive a Tour Guide.” It’s all-hands-on-deck during this weeklong series of overlapping events, and I was just too busy to post — but I’m still thinking about all the fun we had, and I’d like to share some of it with you now.
For me, the most important part of the week is spending time with the guides (this year, 140 of them). We fly them in from all over Europe and the USA to our Edmonds headquarters for workshops, lectures, and discussions. Our travelers have high expectations (and nearly half of them are return customers), and we need to be sure we offer the maximum economy, efficiency, and experience for all who trust us with their vacation time and money.
At this year’s guide summit, I got to share a three-hour slideshow and lecture on what exactly a “Rick Steves tour” is (using photos I shot, with this talk in mind, on five tours over the last three years). And, our Tour Ops staff hosted an extensive round-table discussion for each of our 44 European tour itineraries, giving guides a chance to share lessons learned over the past year and to make sure that every hour on each itinerary is smartly designed.
This year, we also flew in our favorite Rome guide, Francesca Caruso, to give the entire team a powerful and inspirational talk on teaching art history and giving a good walking tour. (“Concise” is not brief. “Concise” is precise and clear. To make a tight talk, you select material, organize, and refine. A logical procession of ideas is less tiring to follow. A mind is not “a vessel to be filled” but “a fire to be kindled.”)
With all these guides in town every year, we figured, “Why not give them the stage and let them help us sell their tours?” So, we put on a daylong series of “Test Drive a Tour Guide” talks at three venues. (You can watch several of these presentations at home. Just go to the “Test Drive a Tour Guide” playlist on the Rick Steves’ Europe Tours Facebook page.)
Meanwhile, the gym is converted into a big party room for tour alums to gather and reconnect with their tour buddies and guides. (Yesterday, I posted a peek at the fun I had at one of these parties.)
And, to get even more value out of this grand summit, our radio team lines up about 25 hours of interviews with guides in our Travel with Rick Steves radio studio. This year, our recordings were what my radio crew and I consider the best ever. Here are the interview topics and schedule (as you can see, it was all a lot of fun for us):
There’s nothing like sitting down with a couple of guides — whether from Sweden, Ireland, or Sicily — and hearing all about their homeland.
After the guides all went home, my radio producer Tim Tattan put together this great little clip, featuring some of our conversations (as well as a few other snippets from the Travel with Rick Steves program archive):