Con­fes­sions of a multi-task­ing tour leader

THE IN­CI­DEN­TAL TOURIST

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel & Indulgence - AN­NIE WADDINGTONFEATHER

Jan Latta is the au­thor of Di­ary of a Wildlife Pho­tog­ra­pher (True to Life Books, $25). IT was when I was per­suaded to wear a belly dancer’s cos­tume and per­form for my tour group in Tur­key that I se­ri­ously ques­tioned my job de­scrip­tion.

As tour leader for an ad­ven­ture travel com­pany, I added many skills to myCVover sev­eral years. As well as the ba­sics — get­ting the group to where they were sup­posed to be on time, fed and wa­tered, and briefed on lo­cal cus­toms, his­tory and pol­i­tics — I’ve coped with nat­u­ral dis­as­ters (‘‘tak­ing the ini­tia­tive’’), in­jured and un­well clients (‘‘first aid’’), serv­ing meals in un­der­staffed restau­rants (‘‘wait­ress’’), lis­tened to peo­ple’s per­sonal prob­lems (‘‘ther­a­pist’’) and man­aged dif­fi­cult clients (‘‘psy­chol­o­gist’’).

Oh, and donned belly danc­ing cos­tumes (‘‘en­ter­tainer’’).

Tour lead­ers must rely on their wits and ex­pe­ri­ence to take them through ad­verse sit­u­a­tions. For ex­am­ple, af­ter sur­viv­ing a land­slide dur­ing a trek through a re­mote gorge in ru­ral China, we re­traced our steps to the road and the daily bus ap­peared within an hour. I per­suaded the driver to aban­don his route for a two-hour de­tour to the town in the op­po­site di­rec­tion (‘‘ne­go­tia­tor’’).

When group trav­ellers are hav­ing a wel­come shower at the end of a day’s tour­ing, the leader (when not pa­tiently lis­ten­ing to neg­a­tive feed­back about the ac­com­mo­da­tion or in­ef­fi­cien­cies of the desti­na­tion) still has to en­sure ev­ery­thing is in place for the fol­low­ing day’s itin­er­ary, such as check­ing guides and trans­port, writ­ing re­ports and tal­ly­ing the ex­pen­di­ture in the books (‘‘ac­coun­tant’’).

The re­fusal of many trav­ellers to take re­spon­si­bil­ity for their ac­tions and an in­crease in lit­i­ga­tion in the travel in­dus­try has made a tour leader’s job harder. One case I know of con­cerned a tour es­cort who hadn’t warned the client a log was slip­pery.

They slipped and broke their leg; the walk, by the way, was in a rain­for­est.

To all tour clients, I sug­gest ad­her­ing to th­ese guide­lines to keep your leader happy.

Do tell him or her when you’ve had a good time. Do re­spect lo­cal cus­toms with­out com­plain­ing about, say, cov­er­ing your head or legs.

Dobe punc­tual. Your pop­u­lar­ity will be zero if you’re late, par­tic­u­larly if the group has to wait for the next ferry.

Do tip your bus driver and tour leader if you are sat­is­fied with the ser­vice. It’s a 24/7 job, of­ten with no food and drink al­lowance.

Do not ex­pect your tour leader to know ev­ery­thing. His­tory of a coun­try, where the near­est toi­lets (or post of­fice, laun­dry or bank) are and how much you should pay for a taxi should be gen- er­ally known. But do not ex­pect an in­formed an­swer to, say, ‘‘What is the tiny ruin on that hill on the hori­zon?’’

Do not au­to­mat­i­cally re­fer to your tour leader as a guide be­fore check­ing the pro­to­cols. Many coun­tries have strict guid­ing reg­u­la­tions: I was nearly ar­rested in Is­rael and Tur­key when a mem­ber of my group re­ferred to me as their guide.

Do not leave be­long­ings in a ho­tel and ex­pect your tour leader to re­trieve them five days later when the group is at the other end of the coun­try.

If you are a fussy eater or have al­ler­gies, be flex­i­ble and un­der­stand the re­al­i­ties. For ex­am­ple, in many ru­ral ar­eas soup or stew made with chicken or fish stock will be con­sid­ered veg­e­tar­ian.

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