Monday, February 10, 2014

How to find the right local guide?

You checked qualifications, fluency in the required language, references, license if required, the guide turned out to be excellent but your guests were far from satisfied, even annoyed. What happened is a classic mismatch: You forgot to check your guests before picking the guide! Back in the days of the 5-day 10-country group tours, it was simple and straightforward as what was expected from the guide was exactly what they had learn to do and did very well day in and day out. The same circuit: church, monument, statue, church again, another monument complete with accurate historical dates, names and descriptions. It was by the book, on schedule and flawlessly boring.

Nowadays the guests have evolved with the need to serve very diverse interests, while the standard guide has remained solidly … standard. Which is not necessarily a bad thing as traditional guides are required for certain guest or tour profiles. I refer to them as cultural guides as opposed to tourist guides, with much respect and admiration for their depth of knowledge, but more often than not they are not the right match for the guests.

First, cultures may be worlds apart, as I experience with Asians in Europe and Europeans in Asia, where both the well learned European or Asian guide fail their respective audience because the European gets into dates and names and the Asian gets into metaphysical discourses. Great knowledge, wrong audience.

Second, the profile of the guests is no longer the standard group “over fifty – first time overseas” which you serve with a traditional guide and the top ten historical points in each city. These days, they are more likely to be younger and professional, or older and well travelled. They will rebel against going through the classic top ten with a traditional guide … or they will never buy your “old fashion” services again.

Third, the purpose of the trip is too often ignored. For example, guests on a MICE group tour seek relaxation, not learning, they get enough of that on their core activity. Beside, MICE guests are classic repeat: they either have been there already or they have been in five other cities just like this one. They want a light fare, fun and relaxation.

How to identify the right guide for your guests?

You absolutely need to know more about them, read their profile, talk with them (which also gives you a good indication of their conversational skills) and match your guests to their strengths. Assuming you are not hampered by licensing  restrictions of some destinations or entire countries, you should look further than the local guide association and search for entertainers, artists or animators. In Paris, for example, you will need a licensed guide to take in the Louvre, but do schedule Montmartre another day with an artist instead of a guide.

Where to find the right guide?

The obvious first call would seem to be the destination's tourism office, but this will severely limit your choice, assuming there is even a choice as you may be assigned a random guide on the scheduled day as most tourism offices still operate on the old model of keeping list of only properly licensed, qualified and very traditional guides.

While there are web sites featuring guides and packaged tours, most are impractical and overly expensive, as you must pay inflated prices before you can identify and communicate directly with a potential guide. Free listings that include contact information for several guides are hard to find and generally only cover a very specific area or region. I did find one web site, TourHQ, with listings that not only include contact information, but also a picture of the license of licensed guides. This is especially helpful for destinations where a license may be required. Caveat: Like for any free listings of anything, quality is unequal with a mix of professionals and casual entries, although not any worse than what I have seen on some of the pay sites at premium rates. Use your judgement and experience to spot the good ones, there are not difficult to find especially for the most popular destinations.

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