Tourist Guides are like Forest Gump's "Box of Chocolates"

John Cushen
View of the coastline of Antarctica from a few kilometres out to sea

I recently spent a month in Patagonia, Tierra del Fuego, Antarctica, South Georgia and the Falklands.  This was my dream holiday as stories about Shackleton’s adventures, television programmes on the Great White Continent and the Southern Atlantic islands with their amazing wild life and talking with people who had ventured into this isolated region of the world, stirred my interest and provided the motivation to rob our retirement fund.

Having a passion for guiding, I found as expected, that the various experiences were greatly influenced by the “quality” of the guide. We had a large number of guides on the two vessels we sailed on and we also used a land based guide in Ushuaia.

So lets see how many ticked all the “what good guides do” boxes? There is no substitute for energy and passion and a number of guides ticked this box. Next on the list comes treating the customer as king or Queen. A few guides were all about themselves and spent very little time (if any at all) learning about who they were guiding and what their interests, wants and expectations were. I love that guiding gem, “People don’t care what you know until they know that you care.” The next “box” is knowledge of the subject or focus of the experience. Of course when guiding, one is always going to come across people who have a doctorate or Wikipedia knowledge of what you talk about, but having a lack of basic knowledge is a “no no” and not using the expert customer is a lost opportunity.

Now we come to the dimensions that really separate the top guides from the pack. Those guides that have a theme which they relate back to when talking about interesting “things”, connect these moments back to their customer’s interests and develop in their group  an understanding about that theme, were few and far between. Gold medal guides know that a theme is the basis of all good interpretative guiding experiences. Reeling of a series of facts and statements equates to a poor commentary. Next up is the ability to “live the day”, to make the customers feel like what they are experiencing is unique and so special. Those few guides that were so enthusiastic and into it as though the experience was tops for them as well, got my BIG tick.

There are more attributes that a top guide exhibits but if you tick the boxes of those I have outlined, rest assured you are delivering a wonderful experience to your customers. When guiding in such a special area, the guides we had have a wonderful stage to perform on. However, like many actors and musicians, not all have the ability or desire to “day after day” deliver a performance worthy of a standing ovation and calls for an encore. To the guides that delivered such experiences for us on our trip of a lifetime, many many thanks.

And finally, as a passionate nature guide, I always pick up interesting little guiding techniques and approaches from these top guides which I add to my wardrobe of guiding “stuff’. Some of our guides were tops and I will be able to bring these gems out in a setting far away from the wonderful area in which we had our dream of a life time trip. Thanks once again, GOLD Award guides.

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