Saturday, July 14, 2007
Wanna be a tour guide?
By: Jacob Oti Awere
WHENEVER you sit down to train a tour guide, you are often confronted by two immediate problems. First you discover that the candidate, in my case more often a practicing guide, does not know Ghana sufficiently for your liking.
Secondly, and even worse for business, you discover that he does not know the tourist he is supposed to be handling. Under such conditions, some tour guides may have a field day with the visitors they are handling, take them to the wrong places, lie to them on many facts about Ghana, withhold the really interesting information, and sometimes cheat them.
Today’s phenomenon is that anybody with a mouth on his or her face is calling himself a tour guide. If you think this is too hard to swallow or digest, just go and hang around any popular visitor attraction site, and keep your ears open.
Why is this so? The bad situation arose because some people do not believe in the need to build capacity before jumping into a “professional” practice. If you want to train a policeman, who deals with criminals, you teach him criminal psychology, the way criminals might think and behave under different circumstances.
Likewise, when our youths enter the teacher training colleges, they are given training in child psychology, and so on and so forth. So, when you want to train a tour guide, I believe it makes perfect sense to teach him the psychology of tourist behaviour.
Bad tour guiding often destroys the most financially beneficial aspects of tourism, the benefits of repeat visits, longer stays and positive referrals, otherwise known as positive word-of mouth advertising.
The tour guide needs to know the significance of visitor segmentation. This is because a single European female tourist, an American senior citizen, and an African-American medical doctor from the Bronx visiting any destination will definitely have different travel objectives and preferences.
Under most circumstances, they would behave or react differently. Somebody told me that even identical twins have their own differences. Women may travel out to the world alone to prove their independence, or to forget about a love affair that has come to an abrupt and painful end. Women are also likely to be motivated to travel when a bloke slips a ring on her correct finger, or when the spouse dies. Tourism solves a lot of problems.
Senior citizens may travel to long- haul destinations, and sometimes surprise destination people with their morning and evening hard jogging. This group prefers the most expensive hotels and exquisite restaurants, and may stay far longer than others. Why not, they have two things that others may not have, money and time.
Still on old folks, whenever I am told to stand by to handle an in-coming group, the first question I ask on the phone is: What is the group’s average age?
If the average age of the group is high, say, 60, find ground floor rooms for them, in spite of their penchant for jogging. People do get quite tired at the end of a hard jog, and climbing stairs after a good dinner is not something people love doing.
If your group’s average age tells you that the majority of them are children, then you are in trouble with terrific times ahead of you. The solution is sometimes the recruitment of extra guides or child minders. If you cannot find any, such as in the summer peaks, National Service Persons, and especially teachers off duty are OK to use. They are quick at grasping facts.
Your tour guide needs to be able to know how student groups are likely to think and behave on a tour. European and American students may sometimes take a whole year off from school, form a small group and descend on you with high expectations.
High expectations because they debated and argued about the choice of destinations, and such groups would select a good number of destination countries for a single tour, and they travel on a shoestring budget. It is not often that they may be able to put money together for another long-haul tour.
So, when they descend upon you, they will squeeze out the very last drop of your patience and self control, sometimes with quite unreasonable demands. If, for example, they hang around your neck and won’t leave it unless you introduce them to the Asantehene or show him the Black Stools, what do you do then?
Such students travel on thin budgets, and if you reserve rooms in an expensive hotel for them, or walk them into an expensive restaurant, there may be lots of embarrassment.
Sometimes a person’s decision to travel is not dictated by choice and financial ability, but by the force of their society, community, home or workplace. We may call tourists coming from this domain the “join them’ tourists. Indeed, some people are compelled to travel because their society or community expects them to travel to feel as part of the community, of society.
Such travelers may be referred to as the ego-enhancement types. Such travelers are more often of lower education, of lower socio-economic status, likely to be first time travelers, unlikely to be married persons, and sometimes may be women.
Such tourists also often come from non-city communities and locations, and they also, for obvious reasons would squeeze the last drop out of their thin budgets. For these reasons, a lot of ego-enhancement tourists get associated with incessant complaints over service, over food and drink, over facilities and anything that catches their fancy. It requires professional patience to deliver a good destination experience here.
On the other hand, the educated westerner, often a responsible family person, of higher socio-economic means and already well-traveled would complain far less or not at all over services or facilities even if they are quite poor. But when they are not pleased, they simply check out and would never return.
Now, to a star question for tour guides. What happens to a tour guide when he has to handle a physically-challenged person? The tour guide must know the adage or slogan of the physically-challenged: Disability is not inability. Never should tour guides try to lift a wheelchair-bound tourist. Just help, and be friendly, but do not patronize your physically-challenged friends.
Once in 1994, I had to handle a Western couple one of whom, the wife, was a very respectable and cool lady of fifty-five. Except that she was just about four feet tall. You know Ghanaians, wherever we went, it took only one gawking woman or child to shout, “Hey, everybody, just look at this Obroni Adwoa Smart!” Then the crowds would surge with even louder shouts, whistles and sometimes not-so-interesting catcalls. Here and there I lost my temper and I shouted back which sometimes surprised them into silence for a while.
I was to handle this couple for three days around Ghana. At the end of the first day, which was not the worst (they were all bad) I took one of the boldest decisions ever in my then 36 years. I felt that for my own sanity I needed to discuss the problem of Ghanaian attitudes towards midgets as if we did mot have enough of them living with us here. But how do you start such a sensitive discussion?
At the hotel, I called the man aside. I think the woman knew I would call her husband aside, from the knowing way she allowed me to take her husband away. In spite of her knowing look, I still took him quite far to be absolutely sure that we were out of earshot. Then I brought up the matter: “Erm..Mr XYZ, it turns out that our people behave this way whenever they encounter…erm…you know…”
He spared me from biting my tongue. He said: “Jacob, she is.. rather, we are absolutely used to it. Ghana is the twentieth country outside the States we are visiting.” In spite of this don’t-worry assurance, I never got used to it and went on fighting shouting wars in public areas.
If you have been laughing over my professional mortification described above, then you will definitely agree with me when I sign off this article by saying: TOUR GUIDING IS NOT A JOKE, YET, IT IS MORE INTERESTING THAN FLYING PLANES AROUND. Have a nice tourism weekend.
The Daily Graphic - Saturday, July 14, 2007 Page: 20