Photo: Courtesy of Rotem Shahar
Tell us a little bit about yourself and your background.
I was born here in Israel, and moved to Miami, FL when I was 2 years old with my family. I grew up there, and once I graduated high school I attended the University of Florida, where I obtained both a BSc and an MSc. in Soil and Water Science. After completing my degrees, I moved back to Israel and enrolled in a Ph.D. program in Hydrology. After a year I realized that this wasn’t the path I wanted to take, and began looking for a job. After doing a few different jobs in the field, I decided I was ready for a career change.
On my way back from a weekend in Eilat with some friends from an Israeli Folk Dancing convention, I realized that I want to become a tour guide and enrolled in tour guide school. While in school, I guided bike tours, segway tours, and worked at Sarona, at the Weizmann House, and at Independence Hall guiding in the museums there.I also took a course to become a licensed Israeli Folk Dancing Instructor and joined a dance troupe, which performs, around the country and abroad.
After finishing up tour guide school I enrolled in the course to obtain the driver’s license necessary to be able to drive small groups and guide at the same time, all the while guiding day tours. My next step was longer groups and Birthright-Taglit trips, and now I’m moving more in the direction of family oriented tours, Bar/Bat Mitzvah tours, Jewish tours, and Christian tours.
What inspired you to start your business?
In Israel, tour guides are generally freelancers, or are completely independent, and in that respect we need to open our own business in order to work in the field, so it’s more a necessity here in Israel.
But I think what really inspired me most to become a tour guide is that I feel I have a unique perspective on things, being Israeli born, American raised, and now living back here, I understand both the tourist perspective and the Israeli perspective and am able to bridge that gap between people and cultures. This is an amazing country, and I feel honored that I’m in a position to share my knowledge and love for the country with others.
What do you love the most about your job?
What I love most about my job is that each tour I get to see the country through a new set of eyes, I get to see a new perspective each time I’m in Jerusalem, or atop Masada, with each new group I guide. And I think that’s amazing.
What are some of the biggest challenges in your line of work?
The biggest challenge in my line of work to me would be entering into an existing group/family dynamic and on the one hand allowing the family to function as usual and on the other hand to manage their itinerary and make sure we are able to do everything we need to do every day.
When guiding a group that is a larger group, not a family group, I think the biggest challenge is turning a heterogeneous group into one large family as opposed to many small clusters of 2-3 people that all happen to be traveling together.To me, it’s really the experience that matters, and the atmosphere in the group while traveling, whether you’re traveling with your immediate family or in a group with complete strangers, and the most important thing to me is creating the right atmosphere where everyone feels comfortable with each other in order to be themselves, respect each other, and function as one unit.
What is your favourite place to visit in Israel?
The Golan Heights would be my favorite area to travel in. I love the combination of history and nature that we have in the Golan. I love the beauty of the region, the flowing water year-round, and the views from the different observation points in the area.
Do you offer tailored tours?
With every group, whether that’s from one person to a bus-full of people, if they’ve turned to me privately I work with the group leader in order to formulate a tour that suits the group they are traveling with. No two tours are the same. When working with a tour agency I’m provided with an itinerary. I look over it and have some say, sometimes more and sometimes less, about the itinerary and if there are things I feel need to be switched around, but those are much more pre-set through the tour agency and less in my control.
Can you tell us a little bit about the first tour you have guided?
The first tour I guided was a weekend with a family that had been touring with another guide, but this guide keeps Shabbat so I was replacing him for the weekend.
I met them and the driver at their hotel, we went to the Ayalon Bullet Factory in Rehovot, we coordinated in advance with their other guide and he met us in Tel Aviv and we split into two teams for a scavenger hunt. Looking back at what I remember, it was a pretty great weekend.
Especially considering that the one thing you don’t learn in tour guide school is actually how to be a tour guide. That you get to learn on your own. You’re taught so much information and at the end are told you’ll probably use about 3% of everything you’ve learned, good luck figuring out what you’re actually supposed to do and how to do it.
I also think that’s a difficult situation to be in, to get a group that’s used to one guide, and then all of a sudden they get someone completely different for 2 days, so that’s a bit rough on everyone.
I think overall it went rather well!
What advice would you give an aspiring tour guide?
Keep trying. It’s hard getting a chance to begin guiding. Most tour companies tell you to come back once you have some experience.
Keep trying. Keep looking. Keep talking to people. Keep networking. You’ll find your chance.
What are your wishes for the future?
As silly and cliché as it might sound, peace. Peace is quite lacking right now throughout the world, and it’s something everyone will benefit from. Especially living in the Middle East, where this region is well known for it’s…turbulence, we’ll say…whenever things get a bit rough here, people stop coming, and I get to sit at home wondering why I chose a job that so dependent on quiet when I live in such a rambunctious neighborhood.
Where can we find out more about your business and how can we book you?
Photos: Courtesy of Rotem Shahar