As the United Nations celebrated 50 years of guided tours at its New York Headquarters today, Secretary-General Kofi Annan said that while there might have been a strong temptation to limit public access to the building following the 11 September terrorist attacks, throwing its doors wide open would make more people aware of the work of the Organization.
“This is the best way they can understand that the United Nations is their Organization and that it works for them and for the generations that will succeed them,” the Secretary-General said at the opening of a photographic exhibition to mark the anniversary.
The first guided tour of the UN Headquarters took place in November 1952 and since then, tour guides from more than 100 countries have played host to more than 37 million visitors.
About 400 former guides were on hand for the celebration, many of who have gone on to successful careers in the United Nations, politics, academics and many other fields.
In his remarks, Mr. Annan praised the tour guides, describing them as the friendly face of the UN, and said they had introduced the Organization to millions of visitors over the past 50 years. On the average, UN guides speak 30,000 words each day in one of 20 languages, telling half a million visitors about the history and features of the Organization each year.
He said the guides routinely respond to difficult questions "with a politeness, poise and self-possession to which we all should aspire."
The fiftieth anniversary of guided tours at the UN also coincided with the half-century mark of the Headquarters building itself, the Secretary-General pointed out. "At 50, UN Headquarters has withstood the tests of time, changing tastes and technological change," he said, adding that a major renovation was under way to ensure that the UN building remains healthy, functioning and able to experience more anniversaries.