Confessions of a multi-tasking tour leader
THE INCIDENTAL TOURIST
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.