The Sunday News
SOME say it is not a job or a profession but it is a passion. I say it is all that and more. Being a tour guide is one of the least understood professions, at least in this part of the world. Some people know what it involves or have seen tour guides doing their work but they still do not know what they are called or how to become one.
A tour guide’s job is multi-faceted and it involves such responsibilities as hosting tourists and leading them on their tours of the destination, showing them and explaining to them the attractions in the area. Guides are representatives, not only of a company or an attraction but the entire destination at country level.
They definitely should have their country at their finger-tips, such that after meeting and interacting with one tour guide at one corner of the country, the tourist should go back home satisfied that they have experienced Zimbabwe and they know Zimbabwe.
Versatility is a very important attribute of a tour guide since their work takes many different forms, roles, and responsibilities such as teacher, entertainer, counsellor, story-teller, protector and problem solver depending on where they are and what is happening.
Their location, dominant element of their work and the kind of organisation they work for, determines their titles.
Some are referred to as safari guides, some history guides, others culture guides and yet others township guides.
Whatever they are called, what these people need is in-depth knowledge of the area in which they guide and also the ability to articulate that knowledge in a manner that is clear, concise and captivating. Tourists really get annoyed by a guide who lacks information as manifested in giving scanty details of a phenomenon or lying about it. Lying to tourists is actually a crime against one’s profession and one’s country.
Another possible pitfall is failure by the guide to identify the interests and preferences of the customers and dwell more on that.
Once one goes on and on about stuff the tourists are not concerned about, it will become hard to keep them captivated, they will lose interest and, in some instances, some will begin to do other things or even wander away if it is a walking tour.
Time management is of essence in tour guiding and being able to control the tourists, especially if they are a group, is a critical skill that will enable the guide to keep time.
There is also something called “pace” in tour guiding. This refers to the speed at which information is delivered. Very fast delivery denies the audience the opportunity to digest what is being parroted as they chase the next fact.
Terribly slow delivery is also bad since it will lead to loss of interest on the part of the audience. Too much or too little information is never good when guiding tourists. Information should be packaged and delivered in the right doses at the right pace. Interaction is key when guiding, the clients need to feel that they are part of the process and they should be able to ask questions, pass comments or contribute their prior knowledge about the subject or phenomenon.
The guide should never assume that his/her clients are blank about the phenomenon even if they are from the furthest part of the world — which is why the thought of lying should never cross the guide’s mind at any time.
Once the decision to visit a certain area is made, tourists tend to approach “uncle google” or whatever sources are at their disposal, for some information on the area or attractions associated with the place.
The training of tour-guides should equip them with knowledge and also hone their soft skills to deliver the knowledge.
From experience, whether a tour guide works in a wildlife park, city, township, museum or gallery, they should not choose what to know.
They should possess knowledge about an incredible diversity of disciplines and they should also deliver top drawer customer service. They should be amazing.
A guide should be a dependable driver who can navigate in all terrains. A good command of English language (if guiding in Zimbabwe), knowledge of vernacular languages and a bit of catering and bar-tending skills are remarkable assets for a guide. Apart from knowledge of local attractions and cultures, it is prudent for a guide to appreciate other attractions and cultures across the globe.
People are delighted to hear a guide telling them about what is in their own homeland, it prompts them to converse with the guide more and contribute to shaping the whole experience. That way you endear yourself to your clients and you also get to learn even more.
The difference between guiding in a museum or gallery and guiding on a game drive or game walk is that in the former the exhibits are static and the guide already knows what they are going to see while in the latter there are elements that are not fixed but they are going on with their activities that are not entirely predictable.
Above the general knowledge the guide has about animals, they should be able to explain what they see happening before them at that moment for the enjoyment, education and inspiration of their customers.
It is also crucial to be able to anticipate and interpret animal behaviour for the safety of themselves and their clients. On cultural or village tours, the tour guide should skilfully unpack the culture of the host community and proficiently identify and interpret the artefacts and symbols associated with the people.
Because of the critical role of their work as a nation’s chief hosts, tour guides in any country are licensed before they can function.
One is licensed as a guide upon satisfying the responsible authorities that they have mastered adequate knowledge and skill to represent the country and ensure the safety and entertainment of the tourists. In some countries they have a multi-tier tour guide licensing system such that they have National Guides as well as more localised city, provincial or county guides.
In Zimbabwe, however, there is only national level licensing. With the multi-tier system, a guide can only ply their trade within the confines of the territory where they are licensed.
In Zimbabwe, only Zimbabweans can be licensed as tour guides. This is quite sensible given that it is the citizens of a country who have an insurable interest in the status of its image on the international arena.
– Phineas Chauke is a Tourism Consultant, Marketer and Tour Guide. Contact him on email: [email protected] Twitter: @phiinychauke619 and mobile: +263776058523