Delivering outstanding and memorable travel experiences relies on many factors:
- Great itineraries.
- The right accommodation: Not only in terms of standard and facilities, but also in terms of location.
- The pace of the trip: Do too much and your customers need a holiday after their holiday. Do too little and you lack the right value.
- Transport and transfers
- Value: Not price!
- Tour Guides
It could be argued that anyone with a deep knowledge and passion for a particular region can deliver points 1-5 with a little bit of thought, and an understanding of the tour group’s demographic. But very often, the single most important element of a successful, or unsuccessful, tour is the tour guide.
People remember people far more than they remember the jacuzzi bath or the chocolates on their pillow.Bruce Haxton
Why Are Most Tour Guides Freelance Anyways?
An outstanding tour guide can turn an average tour into a great tour, a poor guide can easily turn an amazing tour into a poor one and customer feedback consistently shows us this is the case. People remember people far more than they remember the jacuzzi bath or the chocolates on their pillow. So why do so many operators rely on freelance guides and appear happy with never-ending changes with who actually meets and leads their partners’ customers?
For many years, in Thailand and beyond, freelance guides have been the norm and I’ve always wondered why. If guides can make or break a tour, why would you outsource one of the most important elements of a trip? Of course, it is usually cheaper to use a freelance guide – you’re not paying someone when there isn’t a tour running and it allows you to cope with seasonality much better – but, then again, you’re going to need to spend money on bringing in freelancers and endless cycles of training (not to mention the risk of a freelance guide suddenly getting a better offer for the two weeks you’ve just booked).
We’ve always taken a different approach to this incredibly important part of every tour and employ our guides on a full-time basis.
Why We Deliver Tours with Full-Time Tour Guides
Firstly, we want one of our most valuable resources to be treated well. By being a full-time, salaried member of the team, they are no longer beholden to the vagaries of elements outside their control – i.e. booking numbers – and that becomes, as it should be, the DMC’s challenge. Guides can, instead of hunting around for job after job, begin to plan their life and know that they are guaranteed an income through both high and low season. This adds stability into their lives and creates confidence – both elements that are key in being able to perform to your best every time.
Secondly, and just as importantly, knowledge, consistency and culture are all key in delivering a great tour. By having full-time tour guides on staff, all of these areas can be trained and developed over time so you start with a good guide and end up with an amazing guide who doesn’t then take these skills the following week to work for your partner’s competitors. And knowledge is not just about the detail of the tour itself. One of the single most difficult elements to get right for any destination management company is the knowledge of the sales partner and their demographic. Full time staff can be trained and also learn first-hand, building their skills over time about the demographic they deliver tours to, both in terms of age group as well as nationality. They begin to learn the habits and expectations of the demographic of a particular tour and can therefore amend how they approach the tours to ensure that they meet the hidden expectations that all customers have. They ensure you don’t deliver an itinerary instead of delivering a travel experience.
Thirdly, by working with full-time tour guides you can start to guarantee a delivery standard to your sales partners and create more confidence in the programmes you deliver. This ultimately leads to more sales and the positioning of your DMC as one capable of controlling every element of the delivery and knowing intuitively what is happening because you know the staff member who’s delivering the trip.
Finally, a huge number of freelance guides are understandably focussed on their own success and income rather than associating their performance, or indeed being interested, in the success of the business paying them that particular day or week. Every business knows that marrying the goals of staff and the business together leads to success – assuming the product is right of course – so why, in this incredibly important area, would we take a different approach?
A Simple Truth
Travel has always been a highly competitive industry and, if anything, it’s getting more and more so. We have found, and believe passionately, that the best way to guarantee that our partners’ tours deliver outstanding experiences, is to have outstanding guides. And the best way to ensure we have outstanding guides is to employ them full-time, nurture them, train them and give them a secure basis to develop their lives and their economic security. All of this leads to the certainty that every guide is right for your customers and adds yet another level of excellence to what is delivered.
Treat people well, invest in training and development and make sure your staff feel valued – the heart of every business mantra. So why not apply it to your most important asset – the people who represent your brand directly with the travelling customer? A simple truth that’s often overlooked.