Letter to the Editor – Tom Hough

This letter published in the Feb. 17, 2022, print edition. Send your letters to the editor to jgray@natchitochestimes.com

Dear Editor,

In a recent letter I passed on a little information I learned about the carriage industry. I decided to write another detailing what I learned about the relationship that a tour company should have with a city if it is going to be granted a monopoly franchise by the city. What I have come to realize over the years are there are four purposes for a tour company in a tourism focused city. Those purposes are to attract, educate, promote, and entertain. During the 90s while working for Cane River Cruises which provided visitors with both river cruises and open air trolley tours I realized that by providing a high quality tour, of an appropriate length of time, for a reasonable price people would be drawn to the city for the tour itself. In those days there was no Trip Adviser or Google reviews but we encouraged our patrons to go back home and tell their friends about us. In those years I was told uncountable times by people that their friends insisted that they visit Natchitoches and take the trolley and boat tours. Our reputation really received a boost when a woman in charge of entertaining press corps at Ft Polk started bringing them to take my tour.

During that time I gave tours to the Ukrainian and Canadian press corps while they were here covering the multinational forces training that their armies were receiving at the Joint Readiness Training Center on the post. Both tours included videographers from major television networks in those countries. People attracted to Natchitoches for the tour visited other businesses and spent their dollars here. If Natchitoches didn’t have a unique history, have a unique collection of structures of various architectural styles, and sit in a unique river valley that was shaped by a log jam that shaped the history and economics of the area, then Natchitoches would be just another town in America.

The purpose of the tour is to let people know what made Natchitoches different from any other city in America. There was a time when Natchitoches was a nationally and internationally known town. I jokingly tell people we were stripped from the history books because teachers and professors kept embarrassing themselves by not knowing how to pronounce Natchitoches. Our colonial period saw legendary characters like Louis Juchereau, Athanase De Mezieres, and Francois “Touline” Grappe. Early American residents of Natchitoches included historic figures like John Sibley, General James Wilkinson, and future President Zachary Taylor. Folks that visited Natchitoches during those early years included Zebulon Pike on his return from his expedition into the Colorado Rockies, Phillip Nolan, and James Bowie. Generals Grant and Longstreet were stationed here and became close friends. Writers and artists made this area their home. My approach to interpreting the history of Natchitoches is to give a broad overview of the history of the region including cultural anthropology and physical geography of the region.

Only by understanding the overall picture can a person have context for the site specific history of a town. Promoting Natchitoches involves two things. Promoting other attractions and promoting restaurants, B&Bs, inns, and other tourism related industries. What I discovered early in the game was business owners must be dealt with equally and the tour company should not be a paid advertising agency. I learned a few things the hard way like; the fact is some businesses will be better than others and others may be substandard. Those that are not that good should not be overtly criticized. Possibly avoid the subject of those businesses but don’t overtly criticize. I stated above that people attracted to Natchitoches for the tour visited other businesses and spent their dollars here. What I learned was that unsolicited positive promotion creates gratitude and gratitude is expressed back in the promotion of the tour as opposed to obligations to a paid agency which ends upon the signing of the check. People that don’t come to Natchitoches because they know about and are attracted by the tour ask business owners what there is to do in a town. Those people most often take the tour because business owners express their gratitude by promoting the tour company. I’m placing entertainment at the bottom of the list not because it is unimportant but because it is only important in the context of the other obligations and not at the expense of the education obligation.

I’m pretty sensitive about the image of my profession and have found that the negative image is the result of too many BSers trying to turn the tour into stand up comedy. Comedians can be seen for free on television. People walk away from the experience not viewing the guide as what I like to call an eccentric scholar but as a street hustler whose only goal is to separate people from their money. I do use comedy but I use it in part to develop that eccentric scholar persona. I try to give people a crash course on the history of the city where I’m working and to avoid history overload an occasional bit of humor is necessary. I created a video for Natchitoches Carriage Company to use in upgrading their history tour. Since that company is non existent I’m making it available to the public so that people can see how an educational tour can also be entertaining. It can be found on You tube at this link. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vChippxAXaI. If you don’t wish to type this long address you can find it like I do by searching youtube for Tom Hough Tour.

Tom Hough, Natchitoches, La.