I have, for roughly the past year, been giving and/or observing the giving of tours in two quite different places. One of the most common threads? People's reluctance to in fact take a guided tour.
Maybe the word "tour" is intimidating to people. Maybe it reminds people of school or trying to stay on good behavior. And it is in our nature to dislike barriers or constraints, so perhaps the mere mention of a tour is, subconsciously, a threat to our sense of freedom.
Sure, sometimes there are practical reasons for reluctance. People who are short on time. People with children who are concerned that their children won't have the attention span for a tour. People who are concerned about their own attention spans. Sometimes, though, I think that people simply think they won't get anything out of a tour that they wouldn't be able to get on their own.
And when people who feel this way end up on a tour after all, they are pretty much always pleasantly surprised. They're fascinated by the things they learn, maybe even entertained by their guide's delivery or style. Either way, they feel like the time spent on the tour was spent well and they walk away with something to talk about, something that is in fact greater than what they would have had from just walking around on their own.
I admit that I'm probably not always one to seek out a guided tour, either. If I go to a place that has optional tours starting on the hour or something like that, I'll probably skip it. Yet if I go to a place where you simply end up on a tour by the very nature of visiting (like Hearst Castle, for instance), I end up well-pleased at how I was able to learn while also observing. Think about it: if you're reading signs or guidebooks, you're not able to look around while you're doing that reading. And if you're going somewhere with a group (which most people do), then either you feel like you're ignoring your group by reading everything or you feel like it's unnecessary to read everything because it would be better to just walk and talk with your group. But if you're all listening to a tour guide, then you're taking part together and receiving the information together and also having a conversation together (since most tours are small groups where the guide encourages a conversational style instead of just giving you a lecture).
Instead of saying, "Do I have to take a tour?" maybe we should be saying, "Are there any tours available?"