Insights on Travel from Costa Rica Expeditions’ Founder Michael Kaye and his Expert Friends.

New Paradigms for High Quality Guided Trips

Last week  Norie Quintos, Senior Editor of 
National Geographic Traveler, emailed me about her blog post, “Looking for a Few Good Guides,” 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

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

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.

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7 Comments and 1 Replies

  • New Paradigms for High Quality Guided Trips

    • At January 09, 2013
      4:06:58 pm
      Debbie said:

      Special thanks to Joel and Heritage tours for providing us with Hassane Boukili our guide in Morocco. He has been one of our highlights of our 8 days trip. A great and wonderful man to get to know and be with. He has been unbelievably kind, generous, open and understanding – doing everything he possibly can to ensure we had the best time possible. He is knowledgeable and very flexible to changes in the weather and plans which made us feel very comfortable and at ease at all times.Through Hassane, we learned a great deal about daily life and culture in Morocco and gained a deep appreciation for the country. We have cherished our time in this beautiful country, we definitely recommend him to everyone wants to come to Morocco.

      • At October 16, 2010
        12:31:22 pm
        Meena said:

        I think it is a very timely issue , something most of us would like to know about especially with the “adventure ” and nature based trips, like the Galapagos and S.africn safari .

        We have been very lucky to have had excellent guides in both places .
        Kleintours had arrnged small groups for our hikes on teh islands and our guide , Ramon , had a wealth of info , to keep up a very lively and informative discussion at every island .
        I think one of the attributes of a guide is to stimulate the curiosity of the tourist and to encourage him or her to research whaht he or she is looking at .
        The ship had a good refeence library and we would spend time looking up topics he had mentioned and explained .
        The same was true in our S. African trip , where the guide ,had his book to show the pictures of th animals and birds he was showing us , to learn more . He knew his way around the narrow paths and trails , and taught us to spot the wild animals hiding or feeding , without disturbing them . He was always avalble to answer any questions about what we had seen on that day’ssfari .
        Of course later we learnt that both these guids had to pass a to year course in many subjects , including history geography etc etc .

        It makes a huge difference to have a guide who is not only knowledeable , but also is interested in making sure tht the tourists get the maximum enjoyment and info from the trip .


        • At October 14, 2010
          6:53:29 pm
          Cheryl Shnider said:

          Having never had a guide for an entire vacation and having never taken a vacation as part of a tour group, I can only speak about my experiences with guides for an afternoon or day in very small groups of 2-6, specifically for hikes, wildlife viewing, kayaking, etc.

          I disagree with some of the characteristics of this new paradigm. I DO want a guide with place knowledge. I DO want a guide who can find wildlife. No GPS tour or information the internet can replace a knowledgeable guide with a keen eye and ear for wildlife. Nature guides I have had in Costa Rica as well as Maine, Colorado, Utah and Hawaii have enhanced my experience immeasurably. Sure, I could constantly be on my iphone looking up information or reading something I have downloaded – but thats not my idea of what I want to do in the middle of a pristine natural setting. I want to focus my full attention on the sights, sounds, smells and feel of the place. To have a guide who can point out something that I didn’t even know was there and then tell me about it is so much better in my mind. I want a guide who can go with the flow of whatever opportunity presents itself and not deliver a standard lecture. The ability of ask questions and get clarification is also important to me.

          I certainly DO want a guide who is personable, can adjust the information they provide to my educational level and respects my personal goals. I guess that is the “ability to guide in variety of styles
 and levels of intensity” based on “guest knowledge” that the paradigm refers to. I have also enjoyed hearing about the guide’s life, upbringing and family – to me, that is an authentic interaction with a local person.

          • At October 13, 2010
            12:11:21 pm
            David Harris said:

            We found fantastic private guides in Turkey (Cappadocia, Istanbul and Ephesus) through Murat and Pinar at Travel Atelier and they were very reasonably priced.

            • At October 13, 2010
              11:47:27 am
              Brooke Taylor said:

              I recently came back from Morocco and had the most amazing guide there, Hassane Boukili through Heritage Tours Private Travel. He was so knowledgable and friendly and made us feel right at home immediately. But beyond that he made us feel safe and protected, took responsibility for us, listened to what we wanted, took us out at night and taught us so much. He was just wonderful! We can’t imagine seeing Morocco without him :)

              • At September 25, 2012
                5:50:56 pm
                Lisa replied
                to Brooke Taylor:

                Oh Yes ! He’s Just Amazin’ , we had him Too , he was wonderful with me and my husband , he’s a young handsome man . he’s always smiling , and he’s very knowledgable , he’s Perfect ! im trying to describe him and i couldnt find the words ..

              • At October 13, 2010
                10:45:18 am
                Max Waugh said:

                “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.”

                This is one of the keys for me. I remember visiting La Selva, where my guide (NOT a Costa Rica Expeditions guide) would stop every two minutes to give me the same general overview and spiel about the area he was used to giving every group of tourists who came through the area. I just wanted to keep exploring. ;)

                There’s something to be said for adapting to your guests’ needs and getting away from the usual formula you like to follow as a guide.