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Translating Massachusetts to the World
Rafael Torres is founder and owner of Don Quijote Tours of New England, which provides guided tours in several languages to visitors from around the world. Based in Quincy, MA, Don Quijote is celebrating 30 years as New England’s premier bilingual and ethnic tour companies. We spoke to Rafael recently about his work.
Tell us about your background and how long you’ve been in the tourism industry.
I immigrated to the United States from Colombia in 1969 and studied at the University of Massachusetts. While working in an International Office for a large non-profit organization, I met colleagues from all over the world and realized there was a gap in the local tourism industry to serve people in their native language. This realization, combined with my love for Boston’s culture and history, sparked the initiative to jump into the tourism industry.
In 1991, I founded Don Quijote Tours of New England, to serve Spanish speaking tourists and have since expanded to offer services in Portuguese, Italian and French. We are a receptive tour and transportation company that connects the international inbound tourism industry to the New England region and more specifically, to Greater Boston.
Over the years, I have traveled to Italy, Portugal, Spain Canada and throughout Latin America, including Argentina, Brazil, Ecuador and Mexico, to proudly represent Boston and New England at international tourism trade fairs such as FITUR. As a member of the Board of Directors for the Greater Boston Convention and Visitors Bureau (GBCVB) over the past twenty years, I have been an advocate for strengthening international inbound tourism and have represented the Latino-owned small businesses in Greater Boston.
Congratulations on thirty years! What do you attribute to your longevity and success?
We are a family-run company, and everyone helps at different levels meeting the various responsibilities our business requires. A 40-hour week has never really been our business model! We recognize that the office must be available at all hours due to different time zones.
When I started the company, there were no Spanish speaking tour companies in the city, and no Spanish speaking guides to be found anywhere. By providing a needed service to the city, we have been able to find our niche, while also sharing the cultural and historical aspects of Boston and New England that so many visitors want to experience. Today, our tour guides are all native speakers.
A collaborative, community-focused approach within the tourism and transportation industry is a key to our success. We often receive referrals from local tourism and transportation companies when they have tourists who speak Spanish, Italian, Portuguese or French. We work collaboratively with the Boston Concierge Association, GBCVB, North of Boston CVB and Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism (MOTT), and with museums, hotels, restaurants, and colleges when preparing and collecting information for international trade shows.
How did you manage throughout the pandemic and what is your view looking forward or tourism?
Certainly, the negative effects created by the pandemic have affected all businesses at every level, and the tourism industry is probably the most affected across the world. Don Quijote Tours has continued operating thanks to the great level of trust and business relationships we have built with tour and travel companies outside the country.
I am feeling very optimistic about the reopening of international visitor markets. I think that visitors will seek Boston for general tourism, to participate in conventions and trade shows, to receive top medical care, to study in Boston’s prestigious universities, and to run in the Boston Marathon. As travel restrictions lift, we are already seeing requests for services in 2022. We are looking forward to the increase of flights from international airlines such as Copa Airlines and Iberia Airlines to facilitate travel. People have a desire to travel outside of their country and the tourism industry is eager to welcome them, therefore I am optimistic that next year will be a busy year.
Who is your typical customers – are they Spanish-speakers interested in greater Boston, or tourists seeking to learn more about local Hispanic history?
For the most part, our clients come from Latin countries. They are interested in learning about American history, and more specifically Boston’s history, and are eager to visit our historical attractions, and our academic institutions such as Harvard and MIT. Like all tourists, they want to enjoy lobsters and other seafood for which Boston is famous.
Some of our most famous clients range from Kings to Presidents, government officials, athletes and actors and actresses from all over Latin America.
Over the years, local universities and high schools have asked us to provide personalized city tours to Latin American students. During these tours, we focus on local Latino or Hispanic history and explore areas such as Jamaica Plain, the South End, East Boston and Chelsea. This is important so that the students can feel a sense of a home away from home by finding their favorite dishes, hearing their language, and feeling the importance their culture has in Boston.
Where do you take friends or visitors around greater Boston that reflect Hispanic heritage?
There is a long list of special places locally that reflect our distinguished heritage, which we celebrate during Hispanic Heritage Month and indeed, year-round. Many of my visitors are surprised at the large and growing Latino community, and they enjoy visiting the South End to hear about the history of the Puerto Rican community there.
There is nothing like taking family, friends and visitors to one of the many restaurants in Greater Boston – whether its Colombian cuisine in East Boston or Chelsea, or Caribbean cuisine in Jamaica Plain. Since I am driving in and out of the Logan Airport frequently, I love to stop by a Colombian bakery or restaurant in East Boston, like La Sultana, to grab a quick bite and to bring home some empanadas and chicharron to my family. Another East Boston family favorite is Rincon Limeño, which serves delicious Peruvian food. Jamaica Plain restaurants such as El Oriental de Cuba have been serving authentic Caribbean food for decades. The South End has popular restaurants too, including Vejigantes, Doña Habana and Orinoco. In Cambridge, La Fabrica is a great place to listen to live music and dance to salsa, my favorite music!
Thank you, Rafael.
For more information, visit https://donquijotetours.com/