Last week Norie Quintos, Senior Editor of National Geographic Traveler, emailed me about her blog post, “Looking for a Few Good Guides,” http://blogs.nationalgeographic.com/blogs/intelligenttravel/2010/09/looking-for-a-few-good-guides.html in which she highlights one of our guides who she had on a trip to Costa Rica several years ago. She reminded me about an email about new paradigms for guiding I wrote her last year. The timing could not have been better. Our annual guides workshop is this Sunday, so I have been thinking a lot about guiding lately.
In the beginning if you wanted to explore the world’s remote wild and beautiful places you did them on your own, often at considerable expense and not without significant risk. Think Teddy Roosevelt’s Amazon Expedition in 1914.
Between around 1970 and 1985 adventure travel and wilderness tourism to most parts of the world first became available on a broad commercial basis. At first there were very few companies and all trips were guided.
Now adventure and wilderness travelers have a choice of guided and unguided trips from any number of companies, and, in many cases, can put the trips together on their own. As my friend, explorer and adventure travel expert, Richard Bangs remarked, now hundreds of thousands dare to tread where only tens of thousands dared to tread before.
The evolution of adventure and wilderness travel has meant that to continue to provide valuable service we have had to develop new paradigms for guides and guiding.
In the early days the guides’ most important mission was “bring ’em back alive.” Now it is “bring em back inspired.”
With GPS narrated tours already available for most major cities encyclopedic destination knowledge has become a guiding commodity. Top guides will be distinguished by guest knowledge, not place knowledge.
The ability to give a coherent entertaining talk, whether the subject is the architecture of Paris or the ecology of the rainforest has become commonplace. What distinguishes good guides from mediocre ones is the ability to ask the right questions and hold your own in a freewheeling conversation.
Listening has replaced lecturing as the guide’s most important tool. We used to work on teaching guides what to say. Now we work on teaching guides what questions to ask.
Rather than being able keep the group together, which used to be an important guiding technique, being able to discern and provide for the individual and often divergent needs of each group member is now a vital skill for a successful guide.
We used to think that, “She has charisma,” was one of the most positive things that you could say about a guide. Now we think it is, “She has range.” By range we mean the sensitivity and the ability to guide in variety of styles and levels of intensity according to the needs of the group and the diverse individuals who make up the group.
Sustainable practice and opportunities to have authentic interaction with local people are worthy criteria, but they are (or should be) table stakes. The cutting edge is how guides communicate about sustainable practice and or provide opportunities to have authentic interaction with local people according to the diverse needs and desires of individual guests.
On our natural history trips we used to think that the guides’ most important job was to help our guests find wildlife. Now we have come to find out that the guides’ most important job is to help our guests find themselves.
In her blog post Norie asks her readers to use the comments to tell her about, “the best guide they’ve ever had, and “Be sure to tell us what made him or her so special.” In her email she went on to explain that, “Our motive for the comments is to surface and perhaps track down some exceptional guides working around the world today.”
That seems to me like a worthy quest. If you have had a great guide anywhere in the world please post your comment on Norie’s blog and here as well.