Whether flying for business or leisure, global travel offers the opportunity to bring history to life. Frequently, the magic of travel comes from chance conversations with locals who have unique insights that can’t be duplicated online or in travel guide books. The tour guide industry was born out of the travelers’ desire to tap into local knowledge about history, culture and architecture of their surroundings.
Dr. Yohannes Zeleke has been acting as a tour guide since he was 13 years old, helping tourists see inside beloved cities in Ethiopia, Russia, Greece, Africa, and now Washington DC. Currently a research associate at the Natural History museum and President for the African Travel Association at the DC Chapter, Dr. Yohannes continues to do tours of DC and Africa (specifically Ethiopia), through his own tour company The Washington DC Legend Tours.
We sat down with Dr. Yohannes to discuss his love of history, archaeology, and showcasing cities to travelers from around the world.
Q: How did you begin your journey as a tour guide?
A: Since I was 13 years old, I participated in archaeological excavations seasonally as a tour guide to historic sites of Gondar in Ethiopia, my hometown. Once I was 16, my English and French were good enough to lead me to different companies throughout high school, like United Tour Company, Wonderland Ethiopia Tour Company, and Host Ethiopia Tour Company, where I became a tour guide.
Later, I was hired by the Ethiopian Ministry of Culture and tourism, so I never really stopped touring. Even while I studied in St. Petersburg, I also worked as a tour guide part-time!
Q: How many places in the world have you been a tour guide?When I came to Washington DC from University of California, after my post-doc in 2000, I became passionate about the history and culture of Washington DC and how American history played a part in the overall world history. This passion led me to start my own tour company, The Washington DC Legend Tours, where I am able to showcase how Washington DC’s history fits in within the various world histories.
Q: How does Washington DC differ from other cities you’ve been a tour guide for?
A: Washington DC is the greenest city in the world, which is why it’s often called a city inside a park. The quality of the landmarks, clean walking streets, the zoo, the Congress, and the importance of what happens in the city in relation to the rest of the world makes it completely unique. It is a city that encompasses what America is.
Additionally, Washington DC is a destination for all kinds of tourists from all over the world. Therefore, we have to make sure we can handle a diverse group and ensure that each customer gets adequate knowledge from our tour. This means each tour guide must have an excellent knowledge, not only of Washington DC, but of world history, so we can make the tour relate back to each individual.
Q: What’s your favorite landmark in Washington, DC?
A: I always ask my customers this question at the end of the tour, and most answer with “you made us love all the landmarks today”. Therefore, for me, each and every landmark is my favorite because each and every landmark is historic and important for their own reasons. I’ve studied each of them from different perspectives; different art content, different histories, and each of them give me different meanings which are all special to me.
Q: Which countries have your customers come from?
A: Most of our customers are Americans, but we also have a large amount of bookings from Australia, Japan, Russia, Israel, Canada, Mexico, Brazil and many European countries. Luckily, I speak English, Russian, French and a little German, which helps me communicate to customers from all over the world, and my staff can also speak many additional languages, helping us accommodate multilingual requests.
Q: Why should Americans visit your home country, Ethiopia?
A: Ethiopia is completely unique; offering beauty, pre-historical value, unique pre-historic sites, historical cities, people and great culture.
Ethiopia has one of the lowest elevations on Earth, creating a salt and potash deposit which makes it look like another planet, bears 60% of African mountains, has the largest share of the Great African Valley and has an active volcano, with living lava! In addition, Ethiopia bears fossils important to human ancestors and the zoological world, plus it has an abundance of monolithic obelisks, rock hewn churches and monasteries.
Q: What’s been one of your most memorable moments as a tour guide?
A: We took a group of business people and scientists from California to St. Petersburg on a private charter flight. The tour had to be handled very delicately since it involved not only many important people from different professions, but their backgrounds also differed, with us having American, British and Russian officials all in one group. It was definitely a test for me on how to handle and meet everyone properly, manage the program and provide a tour that benefited all the individuals.
Q: What makes your tour so unique?
A: I am probably the most exotic tour guide in Washington DC. A lot of people, when they book, are confused that I’m, not only a foreign born tour guide, talking about American history to Americans, but that I’m also a professor and doctor of Archaeology. But at the end of the day, most people are so impressed by my tour and well-rounded knowledge of history; I find myself invited to dinners or sometimes even asked to speak at conventions.
To book one of Dr. Yohannes’ tours of Washington DC, visit Washington DC Legend Tours.
To charter a private jet to or from Washington DC, contact us or talk to our 24/7 Flight Team at (866) 726-1222.