Supporting Global Development through Sustainable Tourism

Wednesday, 30 January 2013 00:00

Tips for Making Guided Tours Great

Written by Natalie Sellier

While independent travelers tend to shun organized tour companies, we think they can be quite amazing—exposing people to places and experiences they might not find on their own. They make traveling downright easier, and many destinations (such as the Serengeti, Inca Trail, and the Galapagos Islands) are either inaccessible without them or just wouldn't be the same without a knowledgeable guide by your side. Organized tours are especially great for first-time travelers unsure about setting out on their own or visiting that “intimidating” destination on their list.      

Given the service-oriented nature of the tourism industry, we here at Solimar believe that a well-trained workforce is critical to the success of any tour company. That is why we have spent the past 10 years developing an enterprise development and training program that brings tour businesses from a concept to a profitable enterprise that contributes to both conservation and communities.  

When developing an organized tour, here are some tips for giving your clients an experience to remember!    

1) Go Off the Beaten Path: When you limit sightseeing to the obvious—and ignore the obscure—you can end up missing the good stuff. Allow your clients to meet local people and travel in unconventional ways. When possible, join local residents on their modes of transport, in their local markets, and even in their homes.    

2) Specialize: It’s impossible to successfully be all things to all people, and you should structure your trips accordingly. Do you cater to more adventurous travelers, a certain age group, birding enthusiasts? Be sure to really highlight and market your area of specialization online so travelers can find you based on their specific needs and travel styles.

3) Lower Your Impact: Always travel in a way that is respectful of local people, their culture, local economies and the environment. Some best practices to follow include:  

  • Travel in smaller groups to minimize environmental impacts. It can provide a more positive experience for clients too;  
  • Reduce litter in your destination by providing travelers with a reusable bag and encouraging them to use it when shopping;
  • Make potable water available when possible to reduce the need for purchasing multiple plastic bottles;
  • Encourage guests to give gifts of fruit to local children instead of money or candy;
  • Teach guests a few words of the local language so they can communicate with local community members. Providing a sheet of common words and phrases can be a helpful reference guide;
  • Ask first before photographing people. Encourage guests to show locals the digital picture or send back copies to help make it a two-way exchange;
  • Point out where the purchase of handicrafts can have the biggest impact; and
  • Monitor the communities visited during itineraries to ensure the interactions continue to be positive for both local residents and travelers. 

4) Hire Great Guides – We can’t stress the importance of using fantastic guides for any organized tour product. These folks are the main point of contact with your clients—acting as the “ambassadors” for your company, their communities, and the destination as a whole. Always use knowledgeable (preferably local) guides with great communication and customer service skills. They should be well trained and able to share experiences, stories, and traditions… all contributing to a more memorable experience, repeat customers, and referrals!

Interested in learning more about what other characteristics make a good tour guide? Find out by downloading our fact sheet:

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Published in General
Monday, 16 June 2014 00:00

Improve your Tour Guide Skills in 5 Easy Steps

Written by Maria Fernanda

In the world of tourism It is essential for you as a tour guide to take tourists on an amazing journey and deliver an experience and the knowledge that will stay with them forever. You have the power to effectively transfer a country’s culture, make tourists want to stay in a country longer, and influence if they will come back again in the future. That is why you should constantly improve your skills and come up with new ways of attracting and capturing tourists around the world. Here are 5 great ways to improve your tour guide skills:

1) Know your audience: It is extremely important to know the audience you are talking to, especially if you want to connect and influence a specific group of people. How old are they? Where do they come from? What do they want to learn and do? According to HRI (Hotel & resort insider) there are twelve types, however the most common tourists to be aware of are:

  • Young/Backpackers- limited budget, want adventure & fun, minimum luggage

  • Sport & recreation- want active sports or sporting events

  • Leisure- want to relax, be comfortable, lay on the beach, have nice dinners

  • Eco-tourists- Nature loving, seek authentic local experiences and want to give back and volunteer in the communities they visit

  • Cultural- want to immerse in the country’s culture, go to festivals, get know the local people, tribes, other groups and customs

  • Educational - go to a specific place to study and research a country for professional reasons (eg: plant research for medicine, diseases, water contamination)

  • Special Interest - come to explore a specific passion like bird watching, fishing, diving, film festivals, etc.

A group of tourists can actually be in more than one of these categories, and a good tour guide will know this by learning about visitors between stops and use visitor and universally relevant information to make examples more personal as well as better help them achieve their goals and the experience they are looking for during their stay.

2) Manage the group: When dealing with a group of tourists whether it be a large or small group, management skills are very important. As a guide you must:

  • Be well organized and prepared for the group you will guide

  • Make sure everyone can see, hear well, and understand so the information is received and no one is left out

  • Assure visitors safe passage by being aware of all surroundings and the best ways to take advantage of the terrain free from danger

  • Handle unexpected situations such as medical attention if someone gets hurt or if there is a conflict within the group

  • Choose comfortable and safe locations for stops, preferably locations where the tourists can also enjoy a nice view, interact, and have a bite to eat

3) Make the tour dynamic: A dynamic tour has to have variety, activity, and excitement throughout:

  • Games, activities, or demonstrations

  • Using sense activities besides vision (smelling of natural plants and their properties)

  • Using natural objects or other props (learning to make a craft, cook, hunt)

A great example of a dynamic tour that implements many activities and variety can be found in the Bolivian Amazon Tours in El Beni region of Rurrenbaque. There are animal sightings, interactive activities such as building a canopy, learning to weave, catching and cooking fish, learning about medicinal plants and how to survive in the jungle. Below are some examples of activities where tourists interact with the natives and nature in the Bolivian Amazon.

4) Make smooth transitions: In order to provide a great touring experience, guides must keep the group feeling active and engaged as they transition from site to site by:

  • Asking questions or providing an activity to maintain tourist's interest between stops. Such activities could be as small as having an extra pair of binoculars and passing them to tourists so they can better spot a native animal or landmark.

  • Talking to tourists between stops, getting to know them and making a personal connection is a must. A good way to start this engagement is through storytelling. Guides could entertain tourists with a mixture local legends and myths as well as historical facts. 

5) Evaluate your tour: In order to become a better tour guide and prepare for your next tour, you must:

  • Ask questions at the end of each tour in order to see how much the group has learned

  • Do a self-evaluation: did I accomplish what I wanted with this tour? What could I have done better?

  • Distribute and collect a tourist survey (should be no more than 5 questions, this way you get feedback fast. No one wants to answer 10 questions after a long tour so make it simple and easy to answer.

  • Create a blog or website where tourists can stay connected and give you more feedback

A great example of a tour guide connecting with tourists is Assigue Dolo. He is a tour guide in Mali who has his own webpage, where tourists can keep in touch with him and give him feedback. Great way to stay connected and keep tourists coming back and spreading the word.

Read more about about our many tourism projects around the world in our Solimar Tourism Portfolio and find more examples of different tourism activities that help engage tourists.

Published in General
Monday, 23 June 2014 00:00

5 Ways To Make Your Tour Stand Out

Written by Super User

Many independent travelers shy away from organized tour companies, but we here at Solimar International believe they can be extremely beneficial. Tour guides make your travels easier and provide you with in depth information about a destination. Many destinations off the beaten path are not even accessible without a guide, and many of these places should not be missed. We believe that knowledgeable employees are vital to the success of every tourism company. 

Before you begin to develop an organized tour, check out our 5 ways to make your tour better than the rest! 

1. Be a Naturalist

Have you considered that nature might be one of the best assets of your tour? If your tour is outdoors, you should be using this resource to your advantage by informing visitors of the many natural wonders of an area. Try to point out natural landmarks and talk about their impact on your tours theme. Once you start researching, you might be surprised how the natural landscape influenced your destination. Here are some practical ways you can incorporate nature on your next tour:

  • Use binoculars
  • Use field guides
  • Identify examples of common species in the region 
  • Talk about how nature has influenced the area, for example, if it’s a historical tour, you could use old photos to show how the landscape has changed over time and how that has affected the history of the area – good or bad!
  • Educate as much as possible, the purpose of the tour is to explore and learn!

2. Talk About Conservation

The most important thing about your tour is to preserve the beauty of the destination. Travel while respecting the local people, economy, culture, and environment. Voice the importance of conservation and tell them how to do so. This way, your customers will be able to practice conservation and be able to educate others. Keep these things in mind while giving your tour:

  • Travel in small groups
  • Tell your guests that littering is prohibited, and provide them with a reusable bag
  • Ask before photographing locals
  • Check back with communities after tours to ensure there has been no negative impact as a result

3. Use Interesting Language

Nobody wants to listen to a boring tour guide. Think of ways to make what you’re saying as interesting as possible.  Prepare little ancedotes or humouros side notes to keep your audience engaged and interested. Using vivid language will also help grab your audience’s attention. Speak with authority and enthusiasm, but also be sure to keep your personal opinions to yourself. Present all sides of an issue and help your audience decide what they think. 

4. Intriguing Opening 

You should start by assessing your audience – Where are they from? Have they been here before? What interests them about on this tour? This could be anything from a striking statistic about the destination to a preview of what you will show/teach them on the tour. Another idea could be starting with a provocative question – leaving them anxiously awaiting the answer throughout the tour.  

5. Non-verbal communication 

What you say is incredibly important to your tour, but so is how you act! Use gestures to engage your audience. Smile, make eye contact, and keep body language in mind! Your customers should feel as though you are approachable and friendly, and body language is an important part of that. 

Check out more awesome Solimar blogs here!

Published in General
Monday, 30 June 2014 13:09

5 Characteristics of a Great Tour Guide

Written by Sarbjit Gill

What makes a great tour guide? The answer may vary from person to person.

In reality, a guide wears several hats, and most of the times even without knowing it. Guides are storytellers, entertainers, teachers, and professionals as they provide a service in exchange for compensation. Guides are what make a tour great as they add a personal touch to the tour. They invigorate the audience and have the significant ability to influence a tourist’s experience. A good tourist experience can further spur positive word-of-mouth, kind reviews, and will likely result in more sales for the tour guide. Here are 5 characteristics that every tour guide should possess and continuously work to improve: 

1)   Speak loudly & clearly

It is always crucial to be wary of this point whether you are a new tour guide or a seasoned professional. Your guests need to hear you properly so that they can digest the information and remain engaged. A small group size is always the best for a tour as it allows you to pay close attention to, and manage the guest experience. However, if you have a big group, consider using headsets so that everyone can hear the information you are providing. 

2)   Continues to learn & improve

A good tour guide should continuously work on fine-tuning the tour to make it an exceptional one. You can identify the areas that require improvement by paying attention to what guests enjoy the most and the least about the tour, by asking your guests some questions & answering theirs, and by encouraging guest feedback at the end of a tour. These practical steps can help you realize what further steps you need to take in order to enhance your tour.

3)   Relays accurate information

Although it can be tempting when faced with a question you may not know the answer to, a good tour guide never makes up facts. It is vital to relay accurate information to your guests. If you do not know an answer to a question, point the guests to a resource which will help them attain the answer, or better yet, make note of the question and request their contact information so you can supply them with an answer after conducting research. This will help you raise your credibility, provide great customer service, and at the same time, allow you to acquire new knowledge yourself.

4)   Helps tourist learn

As Benjamin Franklin has famously said, “Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn”, it is crucial to engage your audience and facilitate their learning. Simply informing them of the facts is boring. Encourage conversation, demonstrate enthusiasm, ask questions, answer questions, and identify any tools that may help your guests learn better. For example, that tool could be a visual aid such as a photo, a take-away pamphlet with information about the site or an email after the tour listing everything the visitor saw or ate on the tour. 

5)   Act professionally

A tour generally takes place in a relaxed environment. However, as a tour guide, you are still selling a professional service and should act accordingly. It is important to act professionally in order to establish authority and credibility with your audience. Also, small but important details such as being punctual, greeting tourists warmly, dressing well, and being courteous and attentive, helps you build rapport with your audience. 

Please consult our free downloadable resource below to learn more about being an excellent guide, and in turn improve your sales:

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Photo Credits for items used in points 1 & 4: bigskyred, and Marcin Wichary (Source: Flickr)

Published in General
Monday, 07 July 2014 18:47

5 Pre-Tour Must-Do's for a Great Tour Guide

Written by Natalie Clark

 

Every tourist can tell stories of that time when his or her tour guide was the person who made the trip special but also the times in which the tour guide was a waste of money and time. Much of what makes a good tour guide and a good tour experience is preparation. Here are five must-do guide training tips that will help you to become a great tour guide even before the tour begins!

1.     Plan in Advance.

Even the best tour guide shouldn’t just wing his or her tour. If you’re new to the tour route or industry, be sure to prepare by completing a through inventory of the site or trail that your tour will cover. You should know your tour route completely and know what amenities are available to tourists, such as restrooms, cafes, and gift shops. Even if you’re experienced at giving tours, you can always learn more. Conduct in-depth research of your tour material. Learn all there is to know regarding the tour; your tourists will look to you as the expert. Lastly, practice, practice, practice. Nothing will calm your nerves and prepare you like practicing your tour dialogue for an audience. Ask family or friends to listen to your tour and pepper you with difficult questions. If you will be conducting the tour in a non-native language, it will be beneficial to practice speaking and to pay close attention to pronunciation.

2.     Provide Necessary Information.

Your tourists will likely be unfamiliar with the area and excited for your guided tour. Help them to prepare appropriately by providing logistics and rules in advance of the tour. Be sure that the location, time, and length of the tour are clearly communicated to all participants. Let them know what clothing is appropriate for the trip, keeping in mind any cultural and safety considerations, as well as what they should bring (such as money, jackets, sunscreen, bug spray, water bottles, cameras) and what they should not. Make sure that you emphasize any park or site rules in advance (such as no photos or no picnics).

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3.     Have a “Message.”

Wrap your tour around a single, simple message. This is the main point that you hope to get across to visitors. It may cover the history, wildlife, architecture, ghost stories, cuisine, or many other themes of your city, site, or park. Be sure that the message is original and keep it one simple full sentence. By structuring your tour around one theme, your tour will be easier to follow for visitors, and the content will be more cohesive. All the material covered in your tour should revolve around or relate to the visitors’ understanding of this message.

4.     Prepare a Structure.

Plan the structure of your tour in advance by formulating a written outline for your tour. Begin by brainstorming a catchy introduction. Next plan the stops on your tour; be sure that each stop has scenic views, interesting history, or contributes to your message. Figure out what you will say at each stop. Be sure to consider whether your stop is shaded, has benches, and other comfort factors for tourists. Prepare a short conclusion that wraps up the “message” of the tour and thanks your tourists for joining you.

5.     Carry Appropriate Equipment.

A key component to preparing for your tour is to carry all appropriate equipment with you. While planning your tour, make a list of all of the items that might be useful to communicating your message or would make the tour more comfortable or enjoyable for visitors. In terms of communication, if you have a large tour group, a wireless microphone or headsets may be needed. Be sure that you are carrying a phone or walkie-talkies to make sure that visitors have a way to contact you both before and during the tour. For comfort, perhaps your visitors would appreciate printed itineraries of the sites they will visit, or, if the weather will be hot and sunny, water bottles and a bottle of emergency sunscreen may be wise. It is also wise to keep basic first-aid equipment on hand. Consider the logistics of what equipment you can reasonably carry throughout the tour, as you can certainly bring more if you will be traveling by truck rather than on foot for instance. Carrying the appropriate equipment will improve your tour communication and your visitors’ comfort, ensuring a better tour!

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By preparing in advance, providing necessary information to tourists, composing a “message” for your tour, keeping a clear tour structure, and carrying basic equipment, your tour will be off to a good start even before it begins! To learn more, visit Solimar International’s website and download “20 Characteristics of a Good Guide.” 

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