Telling tourists in Dublin where to go – in a nice way
City of a Thousand Welcomes is an initiative that asks voluntary ambassadors to introduce tourists to the capital. How will Conor Pope fare with a young French-Canadian couple?
At the Little Museum of Dublin are Conor Pope, right, with Monika Wright and Jean Michel Clermont-Goulet, the French-Canadian couple whom he advised how to spend their limited time in Dublin. Photograph: Simon O’Connor
I feel the weight of the city on my shoulders as I stand on the first floor of a grand old Georgian house in Dublin and wait for the young French-Canadian couple staring expectantly at me to make the first decision of their whistle-stop tour of Dublin.
I only have an hour to share all the great things I know about the city, after which they will have just one day to take it all in before flying home: Dublin is the last leg on a four-month European adventure for the 21-year-olds.
Their impressions of this city, and country, will be shaped by me, so I suggest they go to the Leprechaun Museum in the morning before spending the afternoon drinking lager in Temple Bar ahead of some souvenir shopping in Carroll’s gift shop and an evening meal bought in Abrakebabra and wolfed down on the Liffey boardwalk.
No, I suggest none of these things.
Before I make my suggestions, my charges must choose between the porter, the fancy tea or the coffee that the good folk at the Little Museum of Dublin have organised for us as part of our introduction to the City of a Thousand Welcomes initiative.
It was set up three years ago to introduce tourists to local ambassadors willing and able to promote the city. After an initial media blitz that saw 2,500 people declare an interest in becoming ambassadors, 600 made it through the process. Of those, just 50 are still involved. For one day only, I am one of them.
“We have done very little to promote the programme, but we have got some very good media coverage internationally, and that is where a lot of people have learned about us,” says Simon O’Connor of the Little Museum of Dublin, which is housed in a gorgeous building overlooking St Stephen’s Green. “In fact, the Sydney Morning Herald said it was the best free thing to do in Europe. Obviously we are delighted by such praise, even if I do think swimming off an empty beach in Sicily is a better free thing to do,” he laughs.
The appeal for many tourists – apart from its freeness – is meeting locals. They pick a day and a time, and the information is posted on a private area of the City of a Thousand Welcomes website that only guides can access. The guides pick time slots that suit them.
The guides don’t know the age or the gender of the tourists, which O’Connor says is “a security measure”.
He also says the “randomness makes it work”. He recalls one match-up that saw an Irish man in his 70s taking a group of seven 21-year-old Finnish women on a tour. “As he was leaving, he said it was like he’d died and gone to heaven, and I have to admit that I was a little worried that the match-up was not entirely appropriate. But they mailed me when they got home to say they had the best time and it was a real highlight of the trip.”