Tourist Information offices — generally designated with a TI or I logo — come in super handy when traveling. A good one will help me get oriented to a new city and offer insider tips on a place. They are also generally non-profit organizations sponsored by some sort of governmental office of tourism and offer their services for free.
However, every once in a while I come across what I call a “fake” TI. A fake TI office is usually some sort of for-profit business that is more interested in making money than helping travelers out. These fake TI offices look a lot like the real thing, but are generally far less helpful. Worse still, some of these fake TIs exist to sell you things that would otherwise be free.
A good guide book will indicate which tourist information offices are awesome, and which ones to avoid. But in general, here are three signs to look for to determine if you are in a fake TI:
1. There are no free city maps
All TI offices will sell a variety of maps of the area, but a good one will also have at least one free city map. Often I will go into a TI office with a specific question about where something exists, or how to get from point A to point B, and they will answer my question by drawing it out on a complimentary map.
2. They try to sell you stuff you didn’t ask about
One sure sign you are in a for-profit fake TI is when you come in with a specific question, and they respond with a bunch of services and products that cost money and don’t have much to do with your original question.
3. The workers don’t know basic stuff about their city
Some of the best TI offices I’ve been to have been in small towns, where they are staffed by volunteers or employees that are from the area and are passionate and knowledgeable about it. Conversely at some of the for-profit TI offices, I’ve asked basic questions that the workers had no idea what the answer is (probably because they were bing paid specifically, and exclusively, to steer me to a select group of businesses).
Sometimes it’s hard to determine from the outside what kind of TI office it is. So if you find yourself in a fake-TI, don’t give in to the pressures of buying something you don’t want — simply smile, say thank you, and walk the hell out.
— Laura Rowley