Exclusive Interview with Maricar Donato

Maricar Donato operates WashingTours & Events – a professional tourism, training and events management company in Washington, D.C. With more than 30 years of multilingual cultural and themed tours, Maricar is equally well known for professional tour guide training to prepare future tour professionals.

MonumentalThoughts.com sat down with Maricar to ask what led her to becoming a guide, what she loves most about Washington and what prospective guides should expect.

When did you come to the U.S.?

I arrived in Washington in the mid-1980s and I will never forget the image that I saw as I got out of the train station with my bags in hand. I felt a nice spring breeze against my face and saw different flags fluttering around a circle. As I got out of the station, immediately I knew that I was arriving in an international city, a city built by immigrants, just like myself. I thought that I would only stay about three years, but now I’m on my 29th year already.

You were working another job when arriving. What made you decide to switch to tour guiding and when?

I started working at American Express, at the World Bank Office. I was a travel counselor for 10 years and I was laid off and underwent major surgery. My life turned around and I decide to find own path. In 1997, I decided to become a tourist guide because of my language capabilities so I opened a business called WashingTours & Events. I was really called into the profession.

You said guiding is a calling for you. Tell us more.

For me, guiding is more than a vocation. It’s a calling because it gets deeper and richer and transformative for me. It makes me more compassionate to others, human communication, and using the voice finding my inner guide compass.

You speak a number of languages. What are they?

I speak Italian, French, Spanish, German, Mandarin, Portuguese and Russian coming up. Because of the gift of languages, I decided to explore the profession of a professional tourist guide.

How much easier is it to form a connection with overseas visitors knowing their language?

Language is a bridge to connect with culture. Even if it’s not my native culture, the fact that I speak their language, they are pleased that were making an effort to communicate effectively by the language of choice.

Your passion speaks during tours. What makes you so excited about guiding?

I love people, love to tell stories, love to show where that stories took place. I am a leader and I believe it is more like a calling than a job.

Do you think you would enjoy guiding in another city versus Washington? What other cities do you guide?

Absolutely – I have the skills and tools to learn more about the places, its people and its stories. I guide in New York, Niagara Falls, Ontario and Toronto, Canada, Baltimore and “The Historic Triangle” of Williamsburg, Yorktown, Jamestown and Philadelphia.

What should visitors learn about Washington?

Visitors will connect with her politics, her culture, her cuisine, her elegance, her stories, her people, her moonlight and the day light, diversity, multi-culturalism, her origin, her magic, her history, her voice, its ups and downs, her failures, her success, her smell, her touch, her feel – the whole thing.

It is a city of stories. It is not completely American. It was built by immigrants. People feel part of the story. I make my groups part of the stories. These are moments they want to capture and take home with them and continue to tell the story and legacy of America.

How do you vary your tours in terms of international visitors versus school children?

Language is one. For the international visitors, it’s the language of choice of the guest. The content of information for them is basic information while the school children need to have a deeper understanding of the history and government.

Because you’re not a native in Washington, do you think it’s easier for you to view the city the same way as visitors?

Totally. That is a defining moment because my origin is not from the U.S. I see the city through a multicultural lens or through globalization or intercultural layers.

You teach in the Philippines every year. Tell us about that.

Since 1999, I started teaching at De La Salle school system. They invite me to teach on Event Management as well as working across cultures. I deal with young professionals as well as college students in Hotel and Restaurant Management & Tourism. It has been a success. An invitation to teach comes every year.

You also tutor new guides. What should newcomers expect from your classes? What makes a good guide?

Expect to learn about the Trends in Social Media, how to market yourself, to develop a personal business plan, tax regulations with my CPA, understand the role of a frontline professional. A good tour guide must have the ability to have good people skills, has extreme attention to details, good communication skills, flexibility, and open to diversity and differences.

You’re often creating new tours. What would you like to offer in the future?

I’d like to develop more products, new design, unique themes and a food tour using food trucks that tell stories about food and its cultural link to patrons.

Do you ever imagine retiring from guiding?

I plan on doing this as long as my spirit is able and my body is physically able to walk the steps of Arlington and continue to serve people. I feel as a calling it doesn’t grow old.

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