The first morning of the tour we get ourselves up and dressed, pack up our things and head down to the coach in plenty of time to greet our passengers with a winning smile. Rooming list in hand, we check the passenger luggage list against our own list to ensure all suitcases have been collected from the hotel. Remember, the safety of their personal belongings is crucial to the happiness of our guests.
Since we don’t always work with the same Coach Driver, it’s important that we arrive early enough to meet with them and inform them of the routing for the day before turning our attention to our passengers. Many people think the driver is in charge, but in fact the Tour Company hires the coach company so it is really a team effort. But the Tour Guide has the last say in routing the itinerary and the driver gets the last say in safety, for example if the route is impeded because of weather, etc.
We load our own stuff onto the coach and we always take the seat right behind the driver – the best seat on the bus! This way we can see what is coming up, discuss issues with the driver as needed and be visible to all of our passengers.
While everyone’s getting seated, we examine the coach to ensure the microphone works, the DVD is warmed up and ready to go and the toilet is clean. When all that’s taken care of, we are ready to greet the passengers! First we welcome them to the coach and then check to see if everyone is there.
Now we can encourage our guests to meet the people sitting around them since these will be the people with whom they will spend the next few days or weeks with. We do this to attempt to create a positive group dynamic – a positive group dynamic means good atmosphere on the coach and thus a great vacation for our clientele. This also allows us, the guides, to take a 15-minute break and sip our coffee!
Throughout the day, on the coach, the guide will:
· Give commentary about points of interest along the way, all of which has been researched prior to the tour, of course. The guide is fully responsible for all information given on the coach and for any entertainment, such as videos or music.
· Answer any needs our passengers have, such as help using the telephones, help taking photos or help finding a great steak house for dinner.
· Decide on the stops to be made throughout the day, taking into consideration what our people will have available to them at the stop, such as attractions, adequate bathroom facilities, seating, food quality, etc.
· Take the time to contact the upcoming hotels, boat cruises, restaurants, etc., in order to confirm they are ready for our group and know what special needs must be met, such as dietary restrictions (gluten-free, sugar-free, vegetarian, etc.), wheelchair passengers, etc.
· Keep the tour running on schedule. Timing is critical for many reasons: for instance, at a lunch stop we may be one of five or six buses and so we need to try to get there are the right time in order to avoid a long wait. If people are late getting back to the bus, we have to make up the time somewhere along the way as we typically have a specific time that we must be at our restaurant for dinner.
· Shop alongside the passengers! It’s easy to spend all your money on interesting knick knacks if you shop too much, though.
· Spend time creating fun for the passengers in the way of interesting stops, videos or music, even planned spontaneity. For instance at a lake in Banff I would put some chocolate macaroon cookies on a little rock near the coach while the guests were taking a picture. When they came back I would say “hey look, Big Horn Sheep dung, this is a local delicacy” then I would eat it and see who had the guts to taste it with me.
· Solve the day to day problems that occur.
The small problems that can arise on tour are one of the biggest parts of the job. Big problems, such as medical emergencies, are handled with the help of police, paramedics or other such officials. They don’t happen often and are not something that a guide has to solve by himself. Be wary, though, that the little problems are what take up the most time.
Take into consideration the following:
1. What commentary will you provide on a rainy or foggy day when the guests cannot see anything out the window?
2. How can you tell when the group wants more information on a topic or when they simply want to sit back and relax?
Eventually, at the end of the day, after seeing all the local attractions and filling our bellies, we will check the group into the hotel. We need to make sure that all special requests, such as that Mr. and Mrs. Smith who are mother and son, get two beds in their room, before we settle into our own room.
Once everyone is settled in, we take the group to a local restaurant for dinner, enjoying our own free meal before coming back to our room to put our feet up for the night. We reflect on the day, hoping that our guests had a great time and made some wonderful memories and review anything we might have done differently next time.
In our room we will also prepare for the next day knowing that we put in 100 per cent because people went to their rooms with smiles on their faces. We can congratulate ourselves for a job well done. If the passengers are having fun, we are having fun as we initiate the excitement then let the passengers build the momentum of their own enthusiasm. In return we get our energy to carry out a good job from their excitement.
Kirsten has more than 18 years experience as a Tour Director both locally and internationally. During the travel boom of the 1990s, she spent much of her time overseas in Europe, South & Central America and Northern Africa. Working for companies such as Globus, Cosmos, Senior Tours of Canada and Transat AT she traveled the world.
During her work as a Tour Director this time, she gained extensive knowledge of cultural differences, working with language barriers, emergencies and keeping travelers happy at all costs. In 2001, she became Field Operations Manager for Jonview Canada Inc. Canada’s largest inbound operator, responsible for interviewing, training and hiring of the Tour Directors and Local Guides.
In 2004, George Brown College awarded her the “Award of Excellence” for teaching in the Tourism Faculty.
Kirsten holds a diploma in Teaching Adult Learners. Today she conducts training for all types of Tour Guides.