When Harvard student Daniel Andrew returned to school penniless after a semester-long hiatus pursuing a music career in Miami, he approached pal Jordan Jones with a business proposal.
The duo had been guides for Harvard’s official university tour – but as Andrew puts it, the stuffy, promotional group tour “wasn’t good.”
He was convinced he had a better alternative, and thus, Unofficial Tours was born.
Andrew and Jones spent the summer of 2006 crafting their one-hour tip-driven “show” that now attracts up to 70 tourists per tour and has grown into a business with nearly 20 trained student guides, a gift shop and big plans for the future.
“Thousands of people are visiting Harvard as a tourist destination,” Andrew says. “We want people to have fun because there’s an amazing history here.”
The guides, wearing straw cowboy hats and crimson “Hahvahd” shirts, intertwine history, jokes and anecdotes, plus details like the admissions process and happenings in the city of Cambridge. The tour features major stops including local sites and historic university buildings.
The down-to-earth guides and tongue-in-cheek touring approach has made the business successful in a niche industry. The lighthearted attitude also infuriated university officials, who tried to put a stop to the tours last year. The university even went so far as to send the head of the Harvard News Office to record one of the tours.
Fortunately, after cutting through some red tape and changing the tour’s name from the “The Harvard Tour” to “The Unofficial Hahvahd Tour,” the duo was able to continue their business.
Most of the audience is unaware that the guides follow a memorized script, encompassing four major themes: official Harvard terminology (i.e. the word for “major” is “concentration”); correlating American history with Harvard history; university architecture; and the rivalry between Harvard and its surrounding city of Cambridge.
Andrew, a government major from Connecticut will graduate in January 2008 and calls himself a “super senior.” Jones, an economics major from Texas, has already graduated. Both hope to someday to attend law school.
But for now, they are focusing on Unofficial Tours. Future business plans include a store lease in Harvard Square, additional tours and the hope that they’ll be contracted by other schools to establish Unofficial Tours elsewhere.
Andrew understands the stigma towards Harvard students, often labeled as “private rich prep school kids,” but he hopes the guide’s humble approach will make a statement otherwise.
“Harvard is the second richest private university in the world, second only to the Roman Catholic Church,” Andrew says, relaying one of his guide’s newfound tour jokes. “So if you don’t believe in God, believe in Harvard.”
By Dara Bramson for PeterGreenberg.com
Get more information on Unofficial Tours here: www.harv.unofficialtours.com
Looking for more college tour information? Check out “Making College Tours Fun for the Family”.