Tour Guides & their importance for a quality Holiday Experience
A tour guide’s professionalism and knowledge are what make a tour experience outstanding- they are what makes the difference between just another tour and a lifetime memory!
Tour guides are critical for an overall quality tour experience. But why exactly is having a good guide so important, and what differentiates a good guide from a not so good one? TripAdvisor has become the main planning tool for many travellers when researching and booking their next holiday adventure.
Have you ever noticed that, when reading tour reviews, a lot of the commentary is centred around the tour guide?
It is true: Other factors, such as catering, comfort of travel and, of course, the destination itself, normally get a mention. But the main emphasis of travellers often seems to be on the professionalism of the tour guide. How a tour guide manages a group, how they are able to engage and interact with the tour guests and their commentary are all very critical factors for the overall guest experience. As great as the destination might be, if the guide is unable to provide good interpretation and entertain a group while making them feel safe and comfortable, what’s the point of even booking a tour?
Isn’t the main reason we book a tour to learn something about the destination, and to have the peace of mind of being looked after at a professional level?
Let’s look at some examples of TripAdvisor ratings just to prove this point, and to figure out what differentiates a good guide from a not so good one. Firstly, we will look at a couple of reviews received by a budget provider of extended camping tours through the Kimberley Region in Western Australia.
“Did the 9-day trip from Darwin to Broome. A 4wd trip on unsealed red dirt roads to discover the Kimberley. Fantastic landscape and bushwalking, some of them were really tough. No hotel, no aircon, no signal, no showers (for 5days): complete freedom!
– Bush camping.
– Swimming in gorges.
– Camping on an island (my favorite).
– Good food.
– Comfort in the car (space and air conditioning), even if we’ve chosen that kind of holidays, we are not cows that you take from point A to point B.
– Our tour guide was more a driver, not so fun and very hard to understand (even for some English natives who were in the group).”
We can see that while the qualities and attractions of the destination kept the overall review of the traveller positive, the guest was disappointed with the performance of the tour guide. He felt more like being on some sort of hop- on- hop- off coach trip than on a guided tour.
Another very similar review made this point even clearer. A female traveller, also from Sydney, wrote:
“(…) our tour guide was more of a driver. He didn’t like to talk or communicate with the rest of the human race other than when necessary. Before starting the walks, he would just mumble:”walking shoes, swimmers, water”. But no indication was given on what we were about to see, how long it would take or the difficulties on the way. When we would ask questions, he would just tell us that we are asking too many questions. Also, if you’re from overseas, be warned that it’s very hard to understand him, even for english native speakers. We had quite a lot of silent nights staring at the campfire as no one would try to start a conversation… All in all, I am really glad I did this tour, but if our tour guide had put a bit more effort into being nice and friendly, it could have been even better.”
This is a typical example of how the performance of the tour guide can have a major influence on the overall travel experience. The traveller did not feel engaged by the guide and was even dismissed when asking questions that were important to her. The guide did not seem to acknowledge that his guests felt the need to be informed of what was awaiting them, for example on walks, and he did not fulfil his role as a leader and entertainer.
On the other hand, a good guide really enhances a tour experience. Another provider of extended Kimberley camping tours received the following review:
“We and our young adult family booked a charter to the Kimberley from the UK on the basis of the beauty of the region, which truly surpassed our greatest expectations but our real luck was finding ourselves in the very capable hands of Greig. He is an inspiring guide. He has terrific enthusiasm and experience of the area and this translates to an insiders knowledge allowing us to explore the highlights but also the lessor known gems. He is a good driver but an even better cook. He can produce food on a campfire that has to be eaten to be believed. The small group ethos and wild camping meant we felt we got a wilderness experience but Charter North equipment meant we were very comfortable- so the best of both worlds. Everyone of us on the trip had a superb time.”
Here, we can see the complete opposite. Many similar reviews appear on TripAdvisor and you will notice that happy guests will often refer to their guides by their first name, and they will often comment on the same important qualities of a good tour guide: Enthusiasm, knowledge, experience, and the capability to share all of the above with their guests in a fun and personable way. The destination, comfort and quality of food are again a factor, but the guide is what truly makes the trip unique. Timing, empathy and care make the travellers feel looked after, while at destinations like the Kimberley, safety issues such as good driving skills are also a critical factor. Last but not least, good guides provide unforgettable and engaging experiences, creating long lasting memories that travellers take home with them while learning valuable fact about the destination they immerse themselves in.
And why do you think some companies employ better guides than others? There are a number of factors. Firstly, good, experienced guides who tick all the boxes are hard to come by. Many tour guides only guide for a short period in their lives as a “lifestyle choice”, before moving onto something else. Therefore only few guides have many years of experience. More over, great guides gain a reputation in the industry and will be poached by and stick with tour companies that provide the best working conditions and pay. High volume and budget operators might struggle to find enough guides and will employ inexperienced ones- which isn’t necessarily a bad thing as long as they are trained appropriately. If a guide becomes unavailable at short notice, companies might be forced to replace them with anyone they can find to be able to still conduct the tour.
It is noticeable that some companies have very contrasting TripAdvisor reviews with different customers writing about outstanding guides that made the trip as well as very bad ones (statistically people are more likely to review if they had a very good or very bad experience). This might be due to some of the factors mentioned above, however, if there is no consistency, would you take that risk? Because of the importance of the tour guide for the overall travel experience, the next time your are shopping for a tour, pay special attention to this factor in the tour reviews- it may just make the difference between a good tour and the trip of a lifetime!