Every city has its own “open secrets” waiting for you to discover them. An old house with a unique architecture, a cafeteria where the art aficionados get together, a restaurant serving dishes you cannot savor anywhere else, or a cultural-spiritual place containing stories never heard before.
Places where you can eat well, night life, strolls around the city, cultural and religious buildings, and alleys full of history. Every city is a destination awaiting to be discovered. The best and easiest way to uncover the soul of a city is through the knowledge of its people.
One of the newest occupations taking shape in Kosovo is that of city tour guides. These guides, of various backgrounds, are brought together by their shared passion for tourism and drive to present to the visitors the soul of the city where they live. They are professionals in different areas yet have the right qualifications to offer visitors unforgettable experiences and interesting facts and information about the cities where they work.
“Working as a guide gives you plenty of room to transmit and talk about the life and culture of the place where one lives. What attracts me the most in this profession is being in contact with people and the ability to uncover my country and promote it,” says Egzona Azemi, ethnologist and tour guide in the city of Vushtrri.
Enes Toska is the Executive Director and one of the founders of GuideKs organization. He tells how the organization was established to regulate the functioning of the tour guide profession, as well as to promote the values and responsibilities of this profession. According to Enes, aside from the passion to work as a tour guide “there exists responsibility and professionalism. The various training programs we have attended have emphasized how important the right qualifications and responsibility are in the course of this work.”
The idea to establish the GuideKs organization stemmed from a group of young people from different backgrounds who attended a training for tour guides organized by the Swiss Development and Cooperation Agency project Promoting Private Sector Employment (PPSE) in Kosovo. For the time being, Kosovo lacks state-run programs to certify tour guides, therefore the training made use of international training curricula from the Swiss organization Swisscontact, which has a vast portfolio in developing tourism worldwide.
“By the new skills acquired during the training, these young people meet a pronounced need for tour guides in the market of Kosovo. Tour guides is a key profession for developing the tourism sector in Kosovo,” says Blerina Batusha-Xërxa, a tourism expert with the PPSE. All youth who attended this training can find employment in two ways: they can collaborate with tour operators, hotels, restaurants or other companies, or they can provide services independently, as self-employed.
Apart from strengthening the profession of tour guides, GuideKs aims to promote Kosovo as a destination and improve the image of the country internationally. GuideKs is now member of the European Federation of Tourist Guide Associations (FEG). Such membership enables broader networking for GuideKs members. Currently, GuideKs has over 60 members operating in Kosovo.
“In addition to visiting the key monuments in the city, visitors should learn about the special features and the soul of the city,” says Nora Arapi Krasniqi, an architect, who since 2014 works as a tour guide in the city of Prizren. The Fountain Square, the Marash Compound and the Lumbardhi riverbank are some of the spots where visitors get to experience the interweaving of architecture and nature, which gives Prizren its vivacity, she says.
You cannot know of the “open secrets” of a city unless you grew up there. The dynamic of city life is such that some entertainment spots are gone, and others appear in their stead; or for attraction spots to change and get richer. Information one finds on the Internet does not always contain the human warmth of stories that locals only can tell.