15 OCTOBER 2012


On Friday November 2, 2012, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon will open the celebration of 60th anniversary of Guided Tours at U.N. Headquarters.

A representative group of former guides, from all geographical regions, will be looking forward to participate in that day, which includes a special exhibit.

We gladly reproduce the logo of the occasion and a background fact sheet.

United Nations tour guides have been conducting tours through the New York Headquarters since November 1952. During these past sixty years, more than 40 million visitors have been introduced to this fascinating centre of world diplomacy.

The first 10 guides were hired by the American Association for the United Nations, which ran the tour operation until 1955.

The United Nations Headquarters building was, at that time, a new addition to the New York City skyline and quickly became one of the city's most popular attractions, on par with the Empire State Building, the Statue of Liberty and Rockefeller Center. Traffic on tour route reached its peak in 1964, with over 1.2 million visitors.

The United Nations Headquarters buildings were built between 1946 and 1952 and remain largely unchanged today. In December 2006, the General Assembly approved a budget to renovate the UN complex. Under the so-called Capital Master Plan (CMP) the characterdefining design features of the UN Headquarters are being preserved. But a thorough overhaul of the infrastructure will make the complex greener and more energy efficient, as well as safer, healthier and more secure, with a technologically up-to-date infrastructure. Completion is planned for 2014.

Tours are offered on a daily basis and visitors have the chance to visit the General Assembly Hall, the Security Council Chamber in its temporary location, see some of the numerous gifts from Member States, as well as a series of exhibits illustrating the work of the Organization on international peace and security, promotion of human rights, and economic and social development.

Every day, visitors come from all over the world to see the place where world leaders come together to discuss global issues that touch our everyday lives. The one-hour tour gives a glimpse into the reality and complexities of world politics and how the United Nations works to build a common ground for lasting solutions.

Who are the United Nations tour guides?

The United Nations tour guides act as "ambassadors to the public," as they play an important role providing accurate and timely information about the activities of the UN System and help dispel popular misperceptions. Every morning they are briefed on major world events, conferences held both at Headquarters and away, and on the activities of the various UN organs.

Tour guides come from many different countries and all are fluent in at least one language other than their own. The current group of guides speaks over 20 languages among them and over the years there have been many interesting combinations, such as a Congolese Tour Guide conducting tours in German, an Italian in Chinese, and a Japanese in Spanish! They all share a common interest in international issues and an eagerness to serve an Organization that works for world peace by promoting understanding among all peoples.

Being a UN guide: A challenging but rewarding experience

Once recruited, the guides go through an intensive training period during which they learn about the history of the United Nations, the functions of its main organs and the various activities of the United Nations System Experts drawn from the Organization conduct regular briefings for the tour guides on issues such as landmines, climate change, peacekeeping, and other topical issues.

A UN guide must have tact, patience and political sensitivity, as well as the ability to present material in a clear and interesting way. Guides must also respond to comments and criticisms from visitors which gives them the opportunity to provide a new perspective on the complexities of global issues and a realistic sense of how the Organization needs the support of Members States to achieve its goals.

Every day the United Nations guides enrich their own experience by meeting groups as varied as sixth-graders from the Bronx, Yanomani people from the Brazilian Amazon, West Point Cadets, Girl Scouts, and New Zealand cattle breeders.

Many guides have remained in the Organization after leaving Guided Tours and some have risen to high ranks, either within the United Nations system or in their home countries. All retain fond memories of their time in Guided Tours and many attend regular "class" reunions.

The United Nations tour guides uniforms: changing fashions

Most uniforms worn by the United Nations tour guides have been provided by internationally renowned designers. As an alternative to the official uniform, guides also opt to wear at times their national dress, adding colour and diversity to their look.

The uniform worn by the first UN guides was a tailored suit reminiscent of the style worn by flight attendants in the 1950s. It was the only time when a hat was part of the United Nations guides' outfit, as well as epaulettes, giving the guides a strict but elegant look. The conservative style remained until 1969, when Evan Picone created a daring new look, featuring a miniskirt and a two-colour scheme. Hemlines fell again in 1977 when the guides donned a uniform created by Hollywood designer Edith Head, consisting of a skirt and a jacket in the recognizable blue color of the United Nations, with navy trim and a scarf adorned with the Organization's emblem.

The beginning of the 1980ís ushered in an era of renewed conservatism, reflected in the style of the guides' uniform. A navy blue suit designed by the French designer Christian Dior was introduced in 1982. Three years later, the American designer Harve Benard created a tailored navy uniform. In 1988, the Italian company Benetton designed and donated a new uniform, a departure from past styles, with a lightweight wool suit in black and white hounds tooth checkered pattern combined with a royal blue knit top.

The current uniforms, designed and provided by the Italian fashion house Mondrian, combine classic elegance with versatility and comfort. The tailored navy blue suits for women and men are matched with light-blue blouses or shirts and a scarf or tie, adorned with the United Nations emblem.

In 2010, United Nations Guided Tours entered the "social media" era with an updated website, a Facebook page and -- in 2012 -- Twitter accounts for the tour guides. As part of the Capital Master Plan, tours will again be re-routed starting in March 2013, but will remain operational throughout the project. We are looking forward to the next 60 years of UN Guided Tours.