'Who mows the tundra?' and other questions that try the souls of tourism officials


Shanna Silva doesn't even flinch when she's asked how long it takes to drive from California to Hawaii.

Or if you need a passport to go there.

Or how to ship soft lava to the mainland.

She's heard dumber questions.

"You just bite your tongue and try not to laugh," said Ms. Silva, who fields questions from the public at the Hawaii Visitors Bureau's Los Angeles office.

Tactfulness, it seems, is a key attribute for tourist information people, who get an intimate understanding of Americans' sometimes hazy knowledge of geography, geology and a lot of other things.

"As an information specialist, you have to be a diplomat because your job is to get the public to come to your city," said Mary Frentz, a public relations consultant for the International Association of Convention and Visitor Bureaus.

The staff at the visitor information centers operated by the Los Angeles Convention and Visitors Bureau takes requests from 250,000 people each year.

Some of the dumbest questions come from star-struck tourists:

* Where can I step on celebrities' feet?

* Where is the cemetery for dead celebrities?

* How can I become a star?

* I want to have lunch with Arnold Schwarzenegger.

At the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism, the question that never fails to amaze the department's editorial director, Tyler Hardeman, is whether the seven-story-tall cement Christ of the Ozarks statue in Eureka Springs was carved by nature.

To commemorate the 10th anniversary of National Tourism Week, the IACVB polled its members for some of their all-time favorite idiotic questions. (Diplomats that they are, the IACVB refers to them as "strange questions.")

Here are the top 10.

* When do they turn on the Northern Lights, and where should I stand to get the best view? -- from the Anchorage (Alaska) Convention and Visitors Bureau.

* Where do you keep all of your wives? -- from the Salt Lake (Utah) Convention & Visitors Bureau.

* Who mows the tundra? -- from the Juneau (Alaska) Convention and Visitors Bureau.

* My wife lost her purse while traveling through Iowa. Did you find it? -- from the Greater Des Moines Convention and Visitors Bureau.

* When does the Grand Canyon open? -- from the Metropolitan Tucson (Ariz.) Convention and Visitors Bureau.

* I'll be in San Diego Dec. 1. What time will the whales be swimming by? -- from the San Diego Convention and Visitors Bureau.

* Do you have an ocean tide schedule? -- asked of the Greater Atlantic City Convention & Visitors Bureau by a man who wanted to scatter his wife's ashes in the Atlantic Ocean.

* What is the elevation here? -- asked by an arriving cruise ship passenger in Juneau, Alaska.

* Do you have a dance in Salt Lake City that back East we call ballet? -- from the Salt Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau.

* Will the hot air balloon race be held inside Freedom Hall (an indoor arena)? -- asked by a woman wondering about contingency rain plans for the Kentucky Derby Festival Hot Air Balloon Race; submitted by the Louisville and Jefferson County Convention and Visitors Bureau.

By the way, the answers to the questions above posed by star-searching visitors to Los Angeles are:

* The courtyard of Mann's Chinese Theatre, where the footprints of 160 film stars are immortalized in cement.

* Celebrities don't have a designated final resting place, but a number of them are buried in the Forest Lawn Memorial Parks in the Hollywood Hills and Glendale, in the Hollywood Memorial Park and in Hillside Memorial Park.

* The bureau advises buying billboard space on Sunset Boulevard to advertise your talents.

* The Terminator doesn't do lunch. But you can get breakfast, lunch and dinner at Schatzi on Main, a restaurant in Santa Monica owned by Mr. Schwarzenegger.

To get a free telephone directory of information specialists at convention and visitors bureaus around the world, send a self-addressed, stamped envelope to the International Association of Convention and Visitor Bureaus, P.O. Box 6699, Champaign, Ill. 61826-6690.

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