VIEWS: 10 PAGES: 10 POSTED ON: 12/12/2011
Adian McCormack, City Bus Tours, Belfast Interviewed by Jenny Hughes JH: So you were the second ever tour guide. AM: what happened was the city centre Belfast franchise is a partnership, and most of them have a background in busses and transport with translink, previously Ulster Bus, previously Ulster transport authority, the local bus company. After the first ceasefire, a bus got bombed and we had to put it into storage, then the canary wharf, for about a year, year and a half or so and then the second ceasefire came, and in between that, and the agreement being signed, around April ’98 a few areas started going on different tours and open top tours started off and that’s when we put the tour together about 2001, 2002 another franchise came under us, City tours, and we were operating one bus, 3 tours a day, and we started out with 1 guy and two drivers and it’s a monster, it’s just evolved now into this giant behemoth, I could argue that this summer we would categorise ourselves as ground handlers(?) as much as tour operators because of the volume of people coming round and we operate a causeway tour every day and we operate a hotel shuttle bus and we operate a bus boat (?) so we’re moving 60 70 people every 20 minutes or so people get dropped of and picked up, the sheer volume has just taken upward, 14 open top busses, two vintage busses, which are re-mastered from London in the 60s and we use them for weddings and private tours. Some of our tours are private handlers, like university groups, work groups and private family groups and we also do guide hires, our guys we hire them out as tour operators like for German, Italian and French groups, and they operate taxi tours, like the causeway tour we do and we also offer script translation and commentary provision, so that like the BMW executives those tours. And businessmen, it’s not airport transfers but private tours in executive vehicles. This summer there was, I think it was 13, like 13 cruise ships from Belfast and they brought 2000 people in mainly Italian and American tourists, so those kind of our broad spectrum of services. That was in the summer, but we are operating tours every 10 minutes or so over the summer which is really busy. JH: so how many tour guides are there? There’s a driver and a guide on each bus? AM: Some companies have a driver as a guide, but we feel it’s worth the extra money to pay to have the extra guide. It’s good for the quality of the tour, the driver drives, and the guide presents the material. The driver can do it if he’s asked to, plus we’re asking them to do it three times a day, it’s going to be, it is tough work. So the guide is the guide and the driver is the driver. But they are interchangeable. A lot of the crews that go out: the guides are qualified drivers, so among themselves they can swap it over to keep themselves fresh throughout the day, so they can do both. On each tour you've got two members of staff. That's kind of the way it works. We have a core of about ten guides and about eight of them we regularly use and obviously it's seasonal, so it'll come down. There's a massive difference between summer and winter. I: And when you recruit for it, are you looking for people that have got a personal connection to the history here, or not really..? AM: Personally, that's what I look for, yeah. Last year, or it was just over a year ago now, I went travelling for a year and so I missed out on a year here and while I was away they'd recruited from the Duffy? College, which is the higher education college and there's a travel and tourism course there. They put out a call to tours and companies; anyone that took tour-link, the tours and links, to offer placements. I think about six of them were taken on as guides and different kinds of roles. There was two girls, of that group, who are still with us and they're guides. Personally, although I can't talk, because I'm young, apart from the placement students, I would be the youngest. But I would place more emphasis on depth and knowledge and maturity. I would happily employ a guide who was an ex-prisoner, before I would employ, probably, a student, because there's more depth to the tour, you know, with someone who's experienced; life experience, who can actually hold a microphone, than someone who's done a course. I think it's easier if you get the personality and the knowledge and give them the skills to be a tour guide, instead of getting someone who can speak in to a microphone, but has no real depth or knowledge, because people are going to throw questions at you on the spot and they could be anything, about very, very delicate things as well. So the guide has to be able to answer the questions properly and objectively and has to have a bit of the craic about them: a bit of fun. They have to be able to solve problems. I mean yesterday we were doing a private tour and the bus broke down up a mountain. With Serbian members of parliament. That's what they were talking about downstairs as well, that bus that was broken. That was Serbian M.P.’s, using the old 1960s bus and the bus broke down, so what you have to do there, you have to just deal with it. There's no one to phone and no one's going to be able to help you out to fix it. They also have to, in terms of your neck of the woods, like amateur theatrics; it's a show really. People are paying our fellows ten pounds, which is reasonably expensive. It's about standard for city sightseeing, but for any locals living here, it's a lot for them to pay to see their own city, I think: but that's a different question altogether. If they're paying that money then they need to have a good tour, something different. I believe our tour is fantastic, because it's kind of unique to peculiar places, the way I would best describe the tours here as well. Maybe don't copy the kind of format of another city of similar population, like somewhere like Bristol may have three hundred thousand people, but they don't have the depth of history we have, or the peculiarities, or the uniqueness that this city does. So that's why our tours are different, so our guides have to present that. They have to also, at the very least, have a genuine empathy with Belfast. I’m not saying to be sentimental, but they have to actually like the place and be proud of it. A lot of young people, especially from outside the city, won't have that. The techniques we use to hire them would be a lot of personal contacts. You'd just know someone who just gave you a guide, first of all, there's no harm in doing that. Other times someone just shows up. Other time, you'll be recommended. I will never advertise in the press. There's a page on the website, which is left up there, to allow people to send their C.V.'s. There's no harm in just getting C.V.’s off people, although we've never put adverts in local papers, because the amount of head cases you’re going to get off that would be phenomenal and the effort, the time going through the... You know: to sift through all that just isn't worth it. We very happy with our guides at the minute. A lot of the guides will recommend people who you get in. You trust their recommendations because that... I think it's one of the best tours anywhere in Ireland, like; I really do, because of the things they have to deal with. To sum up, It's not the same job as you do in Dublin, or Galway, or Bristol, or anywhere else, you know? I: So what kinds of things... AM: And the guides will be... the groupings will be... Well, by law now there has to be. There's employment law to do with the quality and proportional representation, in terms of each community and that's rep... That's with our guides as well, we've guides from all parts from the city and that's an important thing, not just, kind of, for the way things run, but so they can see one of their own on the bus. That's the kind of idea behind that as well. I: Right, yeah. AM: You recognise local people. It's like, if you're on the bus and the guide's getting shouted at like ‘yo, ho!’ you're sitting there and you can see people on the street know the guide and they're having a bit of a craic with him, you know that you're being shown round by someone local, someone who's popular, so... I: Does that happen then? AM: Oh of course, yes. I: That's cool, right. AM: You'll still find here that, that by talking to anyone, that that bus, really, is still a novelty as well. There's still a certain novelty factor, still: a big red bus, you know? It is a feature now, but it is still seen as, like, a quirky company, if you know what I mean as well. Anyone you know, when they see the bus, will be looking for you, you know? Even my friends would say, "I've seen the bus that other day. You see the bus coming up and you know someone might be guiding them you’re invariably going to shout at them. (Laughs) I: (Laughs) AM: People here are working class slappers, like. There's no one better at mouthing, than these people, you know what I mean? So, we try and get the guides to shout back at them. Sometimes you have to abuse someone back, like. The idea is for it to be a bit relaxed, you know? Our tours: we don't have world class architecture, or world class sports, or world class culture. They're all good; good level. But nothing world class though. The only reason people are coming out to Northern Ireland is the novelty factor, which I think will, maybe, possibly get another four or five years out of, if we're lucky. Because then other places in Europe will open up, especially in southern Europe, that people will go to for novelty. Especially in the Balkans, I think. There a lot of cheap flights going to keep people coming here, for family or friends, but you actually have to have something to draw people in, which we don't have. Belfast doesn't actually have a tourist attraction. The difference between here and somewhere like Dublin is that... Or any city: is the tour bus service is a hop on/hop off thing and leaves you off at the tourist attractions. Here there's no where there are any kind of attractions. The bus is an attraction itself, do you what I mean? I: Yeah. AM: It's not marketed that way though. I mean we don't see it as an attraction, we're just a service. But it's the one tourist outlet we have, that's the best way to sort of... The first quarter we do is the Titanic quarter and it's really underdeveloped: there's nothing really there from it. We've stopped there, But there's nothing to do in the Titanic Quarter. You can get off at the cathedral, but once you've seen that: you've seen that. The jail is derelict at the minute: what we were talking about. The Shankhill and Falls: there's no attraction there, it's just walking about the communities, looking at murals. That's what a lot of people do think are the most interesting... But there's no one place to go; there's not one building to... The university, I suppose, is very popular. It's not an attraction: you wouldn't come here to visit the university, you know? The museum is closed for two years, for refurbishment. But even then... Well it should be giving us back, but it's not a destination: it's not a... If it was the Guggenheim, or something, it's a destination, you know? But it's not a, it’s a museum. One of our attractions is the bars. We got the best bars in the world; well among the best, I think and that's what we’ve got here. That's the difference between our service and the open-top buses in other cities as well. Especially in similar sized ones and even a city bigger, like Edinburgh and Cardiff is like that. I: So it's a kind of craic... So the personality is really, really important? AM: Exactly, yeah. So that's why we find the guides are very important, that their personality comes through, because then that represents the company, represents... It's ambassadorial, you know, they're... They have an opportunity and every twenty minutes there's seventy people who are listening to a certain way of speaking and they're going to get off the bus, if it's done properly, with a certain way of thinking and then they go and tell everyone else and they tell everyone else and they tell everyone else... And that's kind of how it pans out. I: Yeah. When the people are on it: what bits... Are they really interested to see the Falls and the Shankhill and that..? AM: The original point to it was that: on each bus there's always half a dozen different audiences, right? So some people are purely there for the politics. A lot will get off at the hop on/hop off stop, take their own time and jump back on the bus later on. What you will find is a lot of people with a particular political emphasis would be drawn towards the Coiste tours and the black taxi tours. The black taxi tours 'cause they're renowned for the political thing. Coiste because the... Well I will always recommend doing the Coiste tours before the black taxi tours because now I think the black taxis have become... A lot of the drivers are just an income. A lot of those drivers aren't vocational, you know? They're just showing up and taking you down the road and there's no depth or analysis; there's no... They've now politicised themselves and I don't do think they do it justice. You know, I think a lot of people are going more confused than when they arrived. Because a lot of the taxi drivers are just taxi drivers and they might have done a wee course, but a lot of the guys wouldn't have the vocabulary to explain the exact nuances of what they're looking at, properly and do it justice. The person may be happy with the tour, but they still come away thinking it was the Catholics against the Protestants, or something but there's no depth given, or no proper background given to the conflict. That's the problem. The Coistes do the work they do with depth. On the other hand of it, there's people, especially locals who are taking friends and family out, would argue that you should avoid the politics altogether and you should just leave it, because it's not to be talked about. Our attitude is that's wrong, because it's not there to be swept under the carpet. You know, you've actually got a responsibility to tell a story thoroughly. If you hide something then it's just going to fester away, so the idea is to embrace what happened. Although it still quite raw, you know? And the Shankill will actually pass where the Shankill bomb was, you know? There's a plaque up. The last thing you want to be seen as is voyeuristic, you know? Especially if there's someone from Shankill on the bus, taking friends, or family out and you're sitting there. You don't know who these people are of course, so you know? And the bus stops and you know ‘oh a bomb went off here’... You know? That could be your brother, but that's not giving it its sensitivity, or nothing delicate about it, so, that's a little bit delicate. So there's people who want to get rid of the politics, but we don't agree with that because there's a responsibility there to embrace it and kind of educate people about it properly. The other aspect of looking at the Titanic bit. Those are the three main groups of people, who want to see where the Titanic was launched from. There's nothing there to do, there, really, because it's all being redeveloped, but a good guide can kind of conjure it up and make it exciting. So those are your three main groupings, other people are just there for the a broad thing. I think there's enough there to keep any tourist happy, I think. Or a good tour on our tours will stand against any tour really, as long as a guide points out the unique things and has a bit of a laugh, that's what they're going to do. I: Yes, yes. You know the whole thing about educating people properly about it, that's all really interesting. So I did two taxi tours and one was surface and one view only. But the other one: he had read loads and loads of history, as well as had personal connections and that one was really interesting. But how do you present it then, as opposed to the... AM: Firstly, a lot of the good taxi tours are done by guys who are ex-prisoners and the reason why they're better, not just 'cause of experience: you would think that those would be the more bigoted views. But what actually happened during the seventies and early eighties, jails became education centres. Guys ended up in jail... Not rightly so. They were just sent to jail. Especially within the Republican side anyway, the Irish language was used as a form of communication and education: days were just spent, instead of weight lifting and playing snooker, it was a full classroom day, like. They had classrooms. So a lot of these guys came out politicised and with a very, very deep understanding of a lot of things, like. And those tours are the best, because they are reasonably fair. Our technique is to use the third person: that’s our golden rule. You'll never hear a guide saying "we", or "our", or they. It's always "this community believes this", or "this community does that". Which allows the guide... Which, in terms of the package, allows them to be less than delicate, but cover themselves objectively, you know? They're not associating themselves with that point of view: they're saying "this community has this point of view". Now, they may be part of that community, but they're not telling you, as a customer, that "I believe this” So that's... And that's the technique we use as well, 'though we're more balanced and more down the line. The guide will always say "This community does this, or believes this; this community does that". Our most overriding concern, to do with politics, is to get rid of the misconception that the troubles were about religion. All our guides are told, I do the core script, and our guides are encouraged to develop it and do what they want. But the emphasis is on getting rid of the misconception that it was about religion. Coming in to the Shankill the guides mostly do a background talk about the layout of where it is; the peace wall, the murals, whatever. Just kind of basic. Normally there they'll emphasise that it's about politics, the difference. Within this community it's about constitutional position: about whether we want to remain in Ireland; or kept a part of Britain, because Belfast is secular, like many other European cities. People don't go to mass here, go to church, more than anywhere else: it's not about religion, you know? It was never about dogma, or theology, or doctrines. It's about politics, it's about the border. That was the difference and people kind of go "Oh, aye, aye". And the fact that got out to the media, you know? That's true, the media just told everyone it was Catholics/Protestants. So people start to realise this. They don't see religious symbols. They see political messages: the flags and that. So they start even thinking for themselves, then that's your job done, not just a simple... People come over here thinking it was just a religious war between people and it wasn't; it was more deeper than that. We actually take them through the streets where the first major riots happened. The point involved, with bullet holes in them, where gun battles happened. It was only in the sixties: it was pretty recent. And again, we hope it's not considered voyeurism. There's a wall in the bottom of the Falls, it's a primary school wall and there was a gun battle in the street and there's still bullet holes in the wall. The reason why we show that isn't to go, "oh, look at the bullet holes". That was where one of the very first gun battle troubles: that was where the troubles started, in that street. That wall is like where conflict in Ireland re-emerged in 1968, on that very wall, like. So show people it, you know? This happened right here. The peace wall as well: we take a bus through the peace wall and that's not done anywhere. It's an active peace wall as well. It's thirteen miles of peace wall in Belfast like. The gates we go through are closed every night. In fact on a Saturday and a Sunday are closed all over the weekend and we have to accommodate that. We drive all the tourists in to the city: the very bottom of Shankill. In to the city and up the Falls from the right bottom, because the peace wall's closed. So even the tourists they have to go around the peace wall on a Saturday and Sunday. It's incredible. There's not a tour bus in the world that does that. There was never one in Berlin that did that, or... You can't do it. There's no tour bus in Palestine, or South Africa that will do it... The Balkans, or Cyprus or anywhere. It’s only here you can get on a bus through a big wall and that's unique. And we get people sitting there, don't kind of realise what they're doing, but there is... We emphasise that don't underestimate the role that tourism has, in everything else, you know? I think it's very unique. I mean, people are sitting there with police in their back garden and a tour bus at the front, you know? It's weird, like. But people just don't even notice it even, you know? So that's the kind of attitude we would have, in terms of presenting it. I: Is it... I mean it is unique, isn't it? And is that because of where it's at now in Belfast, the tours have been on and off, haven't they? Through... So if it's really, really troubled, then you have to shut them down? AM: Oh yeah. Our primest concern, in terms of the macro thing is politics. If a big bomb went off here it's world-wide news again. And what do we do like? That's our customer base. You might argue that some of the other work will keep it going, but a lot of our private work has a big feel good factor about everything, you know? And people have got a conference over the conference won’t start because people won't come here. Even a work group: they're not going to take a tour bus, because there's bad feeling about, you know? So our biggest concern, like... But if you ask this coffee shop like, or that music shop over there, their, probably, biggest concern would be a bomb going off in city centre here again. So we're not unique in that, but it's crucial to us because of visitors: we rely on visitors. We saw numbers increase at the same rate as Belfast visitors have increased, so we would expect to get a percentage of all visitors to the city, you know? Statistically. So that keeps continuing to rise and we're... The competitive environment we are coming in we expect our fortunes to fortunes to follow Belfast's fortunes. So that, in a sense, is a barometer. Any business' biggest worry would be politics, but most businesses believe that it's gone that far that it can't go back to that: that it would be a one-off; it's not going to be a sustained campaign, which would be a different question altogether. But it's still a reasonable worry, like. Bad publicity is bad for any company. I: Have they... AM: Oh, by the way: you were asking about stopping the troubles. We also had to close on the twelfth of July this year, you know? I: Oh did you? AM: Well most companies do. It's a public holiday here anyway. That's ahead of the summer. One: we couldn't take the buses through the areas, because they'll get wrecked. Most of the roads are closed, so logistically it's a problem anyway and also there's no tourists here and that's ahead of the summer and that's a unique thing here as well. Where else do you know where in the tourist season, the tourists disappear? Because of this cultural festival. This is another thing that people have to deal with, you know, other companies have to deal with. I: So no tourists come and see the parades yet? It's not got that... AM: There are people that come here from Scotland and North America and Canada. Also Scots people who would come to see the parades, a lot of the Scottish people would come, take part in the parades: a lot of bandsmen. But I, those aren’t tourists, those are regular visitors who come and do something anyway. They're not really adding anything to the city economy or the evening economy. They're staying in the areas where their friends, or family, or the parades are taking place. So I don't actually see them as sightseers or visitors though. They don't actually... Their money isn't represented in the local economy, if you know what I mean? They're not first time visitors here. I don't know if you want to speak to the Orange Order, while you're here, about that. They've got a development officer you can speak to and they're developing a new festival called Orange fest, which is trying to turn the Orange parades in to a bit of a community festival; family festival. He's got his work cut out for him, but you might want to speak to him while you're here about anything you're doing as well. They'll be happy to speak to anyone about it. I: Do you know him? AM: I don't know him personally, but we've done work with him before. He's a P.R. guy, so go over there to the website and you'll find the... I: Yeah, yeah. That's a really good idea. AM: You may as well speak to him: speak to him at the Orange festival. I personally think they're delusional, because they have this concept that people will come here to see the parades, but our evidence is that even from a visitor who been a unionist background could cause a division. Even now you can still see the bonfires, you know? I think it’s on the tour, you’ll see it from the Shankill. There's an Irish flag on the top and I think it's of the pope and I think he's being torched. I: Bloody hell. AM: That's the cultural highlight of the calendar. That's the high point of the cultural diary, like. That's not culture, you know what I mean? I have a very open point of view regarding everything here, but I just don't see it as a viable tourist attraction: about fire. That's just ridiculous. People can have their own point of view about anything, I don't care, but you can't set fire to something: a big flag, then expect people to come here and pay for tickets and come here and be part of it. People drinking, having riots and watching stuff go up in flames. That's not culture. So speak to him, see what he says. They'll always be open, they'll talk, you know? Anytime there's rioting going on we have to close as well. That's happened on a few occasions. It happens most summers. One or two days with parades in the different areas and we sometimes have to alter the route, or things like that. That's happened a load of times. I: Yeah. Do you still get paid if you're shut? Is everyone on contracts, or is it kind of..? Not that that is part of the research or anything. AM: My job is... I would work from home or something anyway; I just work anywhere. I'm not too sure really about the guides... I think we should pay them anyway, It's just a point of courtesy, more than anything else I: Have there been... You know like with the delicate... The tricky bits of it? Have there been any tricky moments for guides, where they've had to... Where they've been challenged, because they haven't given one view, you know what I mean? Because they're trying to do this balanced job. AM: Well most of our guides will have given you... Can give you an example of when someone's had a problem, something's said, or if they've forgotten to say something; everyone's an expert, but... A lot of it, non-political stuff, they might have left out. It can be something simple like the traffic light turns to green and the bus is going, so you're not going to talk about something that's passed, or way ahead of you. So that's just simple bad luck, you know? If you have to cut things out of your commentary if you've gone on past it, or likewise if there's a traffic jam and you're stuck at the and you have to add things in. In terms of politics, I'd say one or two might have been impugned. A couple of students may have been impugned? but, personally, I think that's because they didn't have the understanding of exactly what they were saying, more than anything else. A lot of our guides now, especially the more mature lads, would know exactly what they're saying and would know how to avoid sounding... They're not there to sound confrontational. Even sometimes if... There's a world of difference here between... Say you're pointing out flags: that's the Northern Ireland flag, or you're saying that's the flag of the Northern Ireland government. That's saying two completely different things. Saying that's the Northern Ireland flag gives legitimacy to the Northern Irish state; which means you're from an English background. If you say that's the flag of the Northern Ireland government, essentially, what you're saying is Northern Ireland doesn't exist and the government is there representing this statement. That's the depth of these two phrases and that's what the students didn't recognise and that's what our guides do. And that's people here that. If you say the north of Ireland people know exactly what... Instead of saying Northern Ireland. Guides, not just because their... Could simply be by law they're allowed to do it, 'cause it's a free country; it's a free world. They can say whatever they want, they're own view point. As long as they're balanced and fair and how they present the communities... It's not really discussed between us, between the guides, but I presume most of the guides have their own agenda, but the first in that agenda is promoting the city in a good way: promotion of positivity and encouragement, things like that. So you can't ever tell another tell a grown man how he should say something, do you know what I mean? I: So you don't have a line on whether they say Northern Ireland, North of.... AM: No. I: No, no. AM: But you couldn't do that legally anyway. They can do what they want. People know what they mean. People do know what they are saying. It'll take someone with a bit of balls to say to a guide that that wasn't fair. In fairness there's been very few where someone's got off actually annoyed; I don't think it's ever happened, apart from the students: that was more 'cause they didn't realise the importance of what they were saying. There hasn't been, really, any incidences of danger. There's been times when the bus has arrived... The bus has driven a tour with rats and stuff before and they had to actually pull around and turn back 'cause there's a rat got on; that doesn't happen anywhere else, like. That was a good few... That was two or three years ago, like. It hasn't happened recently. Army checkpoints and stuff, you know, like if there's a bomb scare. It doesn't happen all that often now so, sometimes it happens, like. Whenever it happens there's a checkpoint and the bomb squad'll be there and the tour bus... Like, the driver's pulled up by the bomb squad, like. You end up just having to make a joke about it, saying it's like: interactive tours, or whatever, everyone just kind of laughs about it. Those are the kind of instances we get. There's of course stuff been thrown at the buses, but I don't think that's any kind of deep political agenda. That's just kids throwing stuff at buses. I: Yeah. You get that in Manchester as well. AM: The worst for me is having the guys from Oxford and Cambridge, the city centre guys and they're torture, just some of the other students: water balloons and everything getting thrown at the tourists. I don't see that as a political thing, that's just being clowns; throwing stuff at buses, you know? It's dangerous, 'cause people have been hit with bricks and bottles and everything, but there's nothing we can do about that. Apart from warn the politicians and trying to get word to the community and that kind of can help as well. Again that's all down to the unique kind of environment that we're working in. I: Just one more question, if that's alright: just about your background, really. You're young, aren't you? AM: Oh aye. I'm only a pup: 25 I am, aye. I: Did you come through one of those tourism courses? AM: No. The only tourism course I did was after we had Australia Week, with all our guides and all our staff went to this course at Castleray college, which is a third level college again. It's further and higher education. It's basically like a service course; it was a two day course for all our staff. Because we don’t work under the Belfast Welcome centre, the Tourist Board, they were saying that we needed some kind of, you know, training for the guides and for the staff. SO we actually designed our own course and put people through it. We don't hire "blue badges" specifically, or acquire... Blue badge gives you the official kind of guide. I think they're stale and sterile and everything else. I don't rate them at all. I think the tours are good about the local knowledge and they're good about health and safety and things like this, but I think they're boring really, so I don't think that’s what our product needs If someone is a blue badge guide and they're good we'll give them a job, but they won't be held back because they're not a blue badge, or we don't require them to give a blue badge. I didn't have any background back then. They didn't even exist when I first came to do it. I was at Queen's doing... Well my background was English and Politics A levels. I started a degree at Queens but I didn't want to be a teacher, so I changed to business/I.T. I'm actually a web designer by trade, I put up web designs, so I put myself through Queen's doing websites for people and a lot of web-type stuff. I used to spend the summers in America living and working. Then get back up here skint to the bone and none of the partners had done a bit of work for my dad. There was a visiting hurling team who, you know the game with the sticks, and there was a team from Waterford up and they wanted to see the murals. They were staying with our club and... I: Do you do hurling? AM: Yeah I do, yeah. I've played hurling all my life. My dad ended up on the bus, just showing the guys about and then he got talking to one the partners and my dad's a self-employed businessman anyway, he wasn't needing work as a tour guide or anything. He said "Why don't you have a go, give them a ring?" and I was that skint, I said "I'll have a go at that, like" you know? So I started of and then just kept at it and was more or less there from the start. It fitted the degree well. The degree I ended up with was business/I.T. So suited a background between computers and business as well. I did a long dissertation on tours and, like, the business as well, which was handy like. I graduated in June, or so, of 2004. Then went travelling 'till next February, so did that for, more or less, a full summer and then left for a year. When I got back I’d become a different…I was going to work for the "Paddy Wagon" company, starting the backpackers' tours. I was going to go back to Australia, London. A couple of different opportunities, but I didn’t really fancy across the water, but I wanted to work here. I didn't just want to be a guide, going round and round in circles on a bus, like. So that's when I became the business development manager there. And Mike, he's the operations manager, he deals with everything tangible. Everything else is my sort of thing: all the websites; training the guides; script, all the advertising and marketing; a lot of liaising with the Public Affairs Committee, the Tourist Board, all the statutory bodies. I kind of represent the company doing all that. Plus I would be guiding round once a day as well. Just, there might only be two guides a day. If they give them a break at lunch I would do a tour at lunchtime and that kind of breaks things up, means they get way for their break. Plus, you'd be on the bus. I do a lot of the private tours as well. That’s just simple business, because it saves getting another wage in and I'd prefer to do it and make sure it's done properly. I mean there's a lot of time clients will come through the website, so you've a personal relationship with them. So I prefer to do the tour when you've got a background with them already. So that's my background. I: Yeah, right. Brilliant. So you wrote the script? The tour script. AM: Yeah, well whenever I was working with another guide, Billy Scott, who's now... He does black taxi tours. Most of the guides start listening to another guide: that's the way they learn really and then building it yourself. So, in fairness, the core of it will have been heard from him, but really that's all stuff on the route, that's core anyway. No one really made that up, that's just the order that everything goes in. My tour would be nothing different. Every guide gives a different tour, which is a good thing, because for the people who are jumping on and off, it's good to get something different though. The tickets are valid for twenty four hours, so you do get to be doing two or three tours sometimes, so you can't have an exact replica, which is good, it allows their personalities to go like, but I wrote the core script for all the guides to use now and then they're encouraged to develop it themselves. Any new guides coming through, you'd work with them, build them up; work them up then let them go. But there are certain things we have to mention. There's certain bars we mention. Like we've got ghost tours running tonight, so you have to make sure the guides are mentioning the bridge tours and there's certain things we have to put in for reasons. There's certain sections to the tour; you know, certain segments to it. That's all laid out. Then after that the guides get the responsibility and encouraged to put their own... To do their own research and do... A lot of our guides will be very strong in the Titanic part, some guys are stronger in the Laggon? Side. Just difference in people's strengths, you know? I: Why do you have ghost tours here? Is it famous for being haunted? AM: I believe there’s tons of ghost stories in... Belfast is one big.. The history of Belfast is quite similar to the places like Glasgow and Liverpool, because it all grew up around a river, you know there? You've got all these wee alleyways and entries, coming off the... Off houses, you can walk along down them now. Now there's all bars and stuff on them, but they're famous for smugglers and... There are even stories that United Irishmen formed a lot of those entries, through rebellion and famine and plague and about that you're going to get ghost stories, you know? Especially in the Victorian era. There's millions of ghost stories about Belfast, coming up to Halloween. Plus there's some great graveyards. There's one up near Queen's called Friars Bush and we incorporate that in to the tour as well. People just have a general interest around Halloween anyway, so that's why we ran it. We carried about three thousand people in about three weeks. Another old bus would go round the old streets, which were said to be haunted; all those old stories. I think it's a load of crap, but it's entertaining anyway. Up to the graveyard and there we've got one of the best local historians: a guy called Iain Mcphoenix and he does the grave tour. It's him and another guy called Gerry Wood, who actually lives in the graveyard, so they're the best men to know about that. I: Bloody hell. AM: And with the people jumping in to graves, you know? I: Really? AM: There were actually true stories about body snatchers and people getting buried alive and stuff, by accident, because there's famine pits and cholera mines and that. It's actually pre- Christian that site, you know? It's actually like fifteen hundred years old, but there's all stuff from the recent famine and cholera and everything in there. It's incredible. It's only right beside, outside the university and there's a woman who was buried alive and they dug her up and she was still alive and she lived. I: Really? AM: She lived till she was eighty, but it was the guides telling the story who will get someone actually in the grave, like and he just gets out. It is a good laugh, like. Then we take them down for a story telling session in a bar down one of the entries I was talking about, called Crown Entry and there's a room where the United Irishmen were formed and there's a famed actor that does, like, a twenty minute story telling session. So it's popular, but it turned out it was all for... Like ninety percent.. Maybe more than ninety percent of our passengers were liberals. I turns out Belfast was crying out to do something at night time, in the city, that doesn't involve drinking. Traditionally Belfast clears after six o'clock. Because everyone’s just gone home, you know, this was a ghost town. Only in the last five years are there bars opening in the city late. You know, a lot of the bars, the city would close at five o'clock, like, you know: back in the day. Now it's not the case, like. The Cathedral quarter is the best part of the town. Very, very busy most nights of the week. All these cobbley streets. Take a wander about down here, while you're on your visit and there's a new policy, where their trying to get a lot of the bars and restaurants to do special offers from five o'clock till eight o'clock to bring people in to the city and that, you know? Just to actually do something... And people do want to do it, they want to use this city. They should have late night shopping every night instead of just a Thursday and our tours are a part of that, you know? Tons of people just busting to do something which involves just getting full and that's why we are carrying so many people. No complaints: not one complaint, three thousand people, like, so it's got to be good. I: Right, brilliant. AM: I have to shoot up here, but I'm... You're going to do a tour tomorrow, is it? I: Tomorrow... I'm doing a quiz from eleven till one-thirty, then after that I'm going to do one after that. AM: Well if you give me a ring. If I do a tour it'll be... I normally do it about quarter past twelve and I would have liked to have done a tour for you, you know? To kind of match all this in. I'll be doing one about a quarter past twelve. I don't know yet, it's a maybe. I: What time are they tomorrow afternoon? AM: One at half-eleven, quarter-past-twelve, one o'clock, one-forty-five. But if you give me a shout tomorrow I'll find out what guide you're on and recommend... I'd want it to be the best guide. I'll tell you what time he's on, 'cause you may as well listen to it done well. I: Yeah, yeah. Alright, well thanks for your time, brilliant to meet you. AM: My pleasure. And let me know... Just send us an email, or, in the event... Let us know how you got on with it. I: Alright, I will do. AM: Are you alright for getting out? Do you know where you're going?
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