COVID-19 forces London tourist guides to adapt

LONDON: "I don't know if you're aware, but we're living through a pandemic right now," says Joel Robinson with a smile as he introduces his Jack the Ripper tour in London's East End.

Robinson, a trained actor and history buff who works for the tourist company London With A Local, goes on to explain social distancing best practice to his nine clients.

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Although he doesn't wear them himself, he advises the tourists to wear masks and gloves before they set off through the once-gloomy alleyways of Victorian-era London.

Down darkened side streets and past shiny new buildings, Robinson recounts the tale of the still unidentified serial killer of five women who stalked the streets of Whitechapel in 1888.

READ: Global coronavirus cases surpass 25 million

Tour guide Joel Robinson leads a group of tourists on a Jack The Ripper tour in London on Aug 24, 2020. (Photo: AFP/Tolga Akmen)

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London's tourist guides are resuming their work slowly as lockdown restrictions are eased, and adapting to new health and safety rules to curb the spread of the virus.

Numbers are currently limited but it's the background of the clients that has changed the most.

Where before Robinson and walking guides like him played mainly to foreign tourists, now customers are mainly British.

Dwindling numbers of overseas clients are largely down to quarantine measures imposed by the British government on foreign visitors.

READ: England schools in COVID-19 hotspots to bring in face masks after government U-turn

People enjoy a cruise tour on River Thames in central London on Aug 24, 2020. (Photo: AFP/Tolga Akmen)

"We have far more Britons than we had," said Olivia Calvert, one of Robinson's colleagues. "It's a huge shift. They're expecting something else, something different."

Among the home-grown tourists traipsing around the Ripper's old haunts are Anne and Nick Garner, a couple in their fifties from near Manchester, in northwest England.

"We would have been abroad but we decided to come to London," said Anne Garner after her insight into the bloodthirsty past of the city's East End.

GETTING CREATIVE

The 90-minute Jack the Ripper tour is one of London's most popular, alongside the Harry Potter tour and another visiting the sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll hotspots of Soho.

"The British already know London's famous monuments, so they expect something else," said Calvert.

READ: Britain backs COVID-19 immunity studies with US$11 million

People walk past Shakespeare's Globe theatre in central London on Aug 24, 2020. (Photo: AFP/Tolga Akmen)

Antony Robbins is an independent guide affiliated to the Guild of Tourist Guides, the national professional association for Blue Badge Tourist Guides across the country.

Lack of demand has meant he has had to abandon his walks from Westminster to Buckingham Palace.

This week, he led his first "fooding" tour, taking a young woman and her mother to several restaurants and high-end patisseries in the British capital.

"We're changing the way we work because we have to," he said. "We need to be more creative."

READ: UK transport minister: 'It is now safe to return to work'

People enjoy a cruise tour on River Thames in central London on Aug 24, 2020. (Photo: AFP/Tolga Akmen)

Although some guides have been able to go back to work, many tourism professionals – particularly freelancers not linked to major attractions – are finding it hard.

Only six staff at London With A Local have returned to work and the number of weekly guided tours has been cut by half.

And predictions for the coming months don't make easy reading.

LOSS OF INCOME

The World Travel & Tourism Council said this week that Britain's economy will lose about £22 billiRead More – Source