Press Releases

    Note to Correspondents

    Note No. 221
    4 November 2002


    400 Former Guides to Express Renewed Commitment To United Nations
    At Fiftieth Anniversary Celebration in New York

    The United Nations guided tours operation is celebrating its fiftieth anniversary on 6 November with a series of special events. Since the first tour took place in November 1952, over 37 million visitors have been guided through United Nations Headquarters by 2,000 highly trained, multilingual guides from more than 100 countries. This number is even higher when one adds the guided tours also provided at UN offices in Vienna, Geneva and Nairobi.

    The fiftieth anniversary celebration will feature the launch of a photo exhibition highlighting five decades of the visitors’ experience at the United Nations. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and several hundred current and former guides will attend.

    "The tour guides -- our ambassadors to the public -- are usually the visitors’ most direct contact with the United Nations and therefore play an important role in shaping people’s perceptions of the work of the Organization", says Shashi Tharoor, Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations Department of Public Information (DPI). All guides receive daily in-depth briefings on the history and current activities of the United Nations, have excellent public speaking skills and are fluent in English and at least one other language. Many are multilingual and give tours in three or four languages in the course of a day. They reflect increasingly diverse academic, cultural and professional backgrounds and many of them move on to achieve prominence in government, academia, media -- or even the UN itself.

    For example, the assistant to the Director of the UN Information Service in Vienna, Elisabeth Friedel from Bad Vöslau, Lower Austria, started her UN career as a tour guide at UN headquarters from 1976 to 1978. Immediately afterwards she worked in the Executive Office of the Secretary-General and then as secretary to Secretary-General Kurt Waldheim and to his successor, Javier Pérez de Cuéllar. In 1990, Ms. Friedel joined the UN mission to Namibia (UNTAG), where she assisted in the preparations for the elections that led to Namibia’s independence in the same year. In 1993, Ms. Friedel went on her second UN mission to Johannesburg, South Africa, as the personal assistant of the head of mission.

    Since working as a guide, Ms. Friedel has been committed to the goals of the United Nations and says that the intensive training she received as a guide became the basic foundation for her future work in the Organization. She is very much looking forward to meeting her former guide colleagues in New York on 6 November, some of whom she has not seen for 25 years.

    "The anniversary gathering of guides will serve to galvanize this valuable network of former guides and encourage them to continue to promote the United Nations in their own communities,"says Lyutha Al-Mughairy, Chief of the Public Liasion Service. Nina Miness, who was a guide in 1952, says that they have had a remarkable success in tracking down former guides. "For most of them, working at the United Nations was a highlight in their careers and they are eager to reconnect", she says.

    Today, 52 young people from 32 countries, including seven men, conduct the tours in New York, which are offered in more than 20 languages. At the Vienna International Centre more than 16 multilingual guides are prepared to receive visitors. Guided Tours take place from Monday to Friday at 11:00 am and 2:00 pm. During the guided tours visitors can see how a UN conference functions and learn more about the work of the different in Vienna-based UN organizations, such as the fight against drugs and organized crime, outer space, atomic energy, banning of nuclear tests, industrial development and international trade laws.

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    For more information on the anniversary, to request photos or to interview a current or former United Nations guide, please contact Helene Hoedl Guided Tours Unit, tel.: ++1 212-963-3242, fax: ++1 212-963-0071, e-mail: or or visit