The adventure tour guide
- Customer respect
- Physical capability
- Feedback from customers
Adventure tour guides are employed to provide a safe, entertaining outdoor adventure for paying customers. These customers are paying for the privilege of doing an activity different from their everyday lives.
Adventure tour guides typically lead groups of people in the 30–50 age group, who generally have well-paying occupations. They have usually booked individually on adventure tours. There is little or no opportunity to meet the customers prior to the commencement of the adventure. Adventure tour customers are often partaking in a once-a-year major outdoor holiday and therefore may have very limited relevant experience.
The pay rates for adventure tour guides are low when compared with most other professions, and the adventure tour guide industry provides little or no career structure. Because of the seasonal or casual nature of the adventure tour industry, there is generally no provision for holiday pay, sick leave, public holidays, or penalty rates. The amount of tour guide work is irregular because of the dependence upon numbers of customers. During tours, the guide is on 24 hour call from customers and is responsible for providing first aid.
Customers generally come from middle to upper income levels. They can recognise and expect a value for money experience. Adventure tour customers come with different aims and objectives, but expect to achieve them, at least partly because they have paid what they consider a substantial sum of money.
Adventure tour operators may accept customers with a lower level of physical capabilities or outdoor experience than would normally be accepted for such a trip. As the tour guide, you must accommodate these customers in the best possible way, even though you may disagree with them being on the trip.
The adventure tour guide needs to empathise with customers’ difficulties, wants and needs. Training in this area involves careful observation of other service providers; particularly those involved in hospitality, but success comes only with a genuine desire to be of service to all customers, and lots of practice.
The adventure tour guide must always remember that the bottom line is ‘Safety is Number One’. Customer and tour guide safety is never negotiable. Tour guides must carefully understand, anticipate and adequately plan for worst-case scenarios.
The potential for compromising safety is increased because customers have paid significant amounts of money for an adventure. For example, sometimes the guide must walk a fine line between safety and the goals, objectives and expectations of paying customers. Delicate and diplomatic negotiation skills with and between paying customers is therefore very important. The tour guide leader must be able to justify any compromises to standard practices when required (e.g. to the police or at a coroner’s enquiry).
Food must be well presented, properly and hygienically cooked, be available in adequate amounts, and with sufficient variety. Food is second only to safety as the most important issue to the customer of any adventure holiday.
Tour guides must avoid using derogatory terms such as ‘punters’ or ‘gumbies’ when referring to customers. We are all customers to other service providers and we should be respectful of those who are paying our wages. Use positive terms such as ‘valued customer’, ‘honoured client’, ‘appreciated guest’, ‘respected patron’ or ‘esteemed passenger’, being careful to be sincerely positive, and not cynical in your approach.
Customers will not appreciate waiting for a late tour guide. Adventure tour leaders must always plan to be early when meeting with tour clients. Safely keeping ahead of schedule ensures some leeway for unexpected delays.
Tour guides must attempt to quickly remember and use customers’ names early in the tour. Everybody loves to hear his or her name, and it shows genuine interest in each customer. Regularly using customers’ names helps the tour group bind together.
Equipment supplied to adventure tour customers must be clean, modern and reliable. Clothing and equipment used by the tour guide leader must be clean, professional looking, and completely reliable. In the adventure tour industry there is no room for gear freaks, untidy appearances, overused clothing or equipment.
Adventure tour guides must be physically able to accomplish the adventure being led as well as being able to carry additional group items and some of the customer’s share of the load. Some customers may be very confident and outgoing, but may have very limited experience to undertake a difficult adventure trip. Offering assistance to customers must be approached delicately and without diminishing the perceived importance of the customer.
Tipping is not widespread in Australia when compared with other countries, particularly in the USA and Canada. Tour guides need to be accustomed to appropriate techniques for accepting customer tips, which do not embarrass other trip participants.
A positive approach
Tour guides must always present a smiling face, even in the most adverse situations or conditions. A smiling face gives the customer the impression of approachability and confidence. Show genuine interest in customers, to find common life threads for further discussion and possible links with other customers. Facilitate group sharing in areas of common interest. This helps the group bond and promotes a positive experience for all. However, steer discussions clear of sensitive subjects such as politics, religion, and occupational status. Whenever possible, tour guides should attempt to agree with customers’ viewpoints, rather than vigorously arguing the merits of an opposing opinion.
Campfire usage is becoming a tricky issue for adventure tour guides. There may be strong feelings on this issue from both the customers and the tour guide. Any contentious campfire decision must take into account safety, the environment, tour company guidelines and the sentiments of all customers.
Feedback from customers
Collecting and applying suggestions from customers is crucial for continually improving the adventure tour product. The tour leader is in the best position to gain this valuable customer feedback. The information should be promptly transferred to the tour company management, and adopted where appropriate by the tour guide in future tours.
Using all of these techniques will secure a great, positive holiday experience for your customers. Maintaining good outdoor adventure holiday experiences for all clients will ensure the industry continues to grow, especially through the valuable ‘word of mouth’ advertising. Adventure tour customers may be your livelihood, and they expect 100% professionalism and service, but you must give the unexpected 110% to be successful in this industry.