Friday, June 19, 2009

The Real Job of a Local Tour Guide

I’ve been leading international tours and training tour directors and guides for years. I love learning about cultures and sharing stories with fellow professionals. Last year I was privileged to get to know a wonderful professional Bulgarian local tour guide. Bobi, the local tour guide, took my online tour managementclass but I’m sure I learned as much from her as she did from me.
As a local guide Bobi has worked with groups from around the world. She has also traveled extensively so she has an amazing understanding and ability to express and share her experiences. Her insight has given my students a wonderful understanding of the what the local guides may be feeling as they work with visitors from around the world.
When one of my students expressed her concern and fear of delivering narration for the first time, Bobi shared her first experience. I think it’s good advice for all new tour directors and guides.
She said, “I can tell you a story about my very first presence in front of a large group from USA. I am a Bulgarian and English is not my mother tongue. On the other hand, at that time (I was 24 just graduated from the university and was very shy.) Bulgaria was a communist country and we did not really see Americans, nor we had any idea about the difference between British English and American English. Believe me there is a great difference. However, I had to talk in front of 42 Americans, who I did not understand at all. I was about to cry and wanted to hide, but I was at work and had a week ahead and a lot to talk about. I am sure everybody has his moments of being shy and feeling uneasy. Then the tour director (he was an American of Polish origin) came to me and said in Polish (yes, I know Polish) - he said - just talk, keep talking. Don't worry that you make mistakes, don't worry about how good or bad you sound. When you are talking people do listen. They will understand you and even will help you. That was all I needed. Just talk and don't think of what you look like and how you sound. You sound great and you look tremendous - I am positive about it. Wish you luck. Go for it.”
As tour directors and guides our jobs are never boring. No matter how prepared we are surprises and challenges still happen. I call it “job security”. If everything always worked perfectly, we may not be needed. Here’s how Bobi handled one of her challenges.
“I am from ex-communist country. Once in the 70s I had a group of Americans. That was very rare at that time. The group had two hours only for lunch before departure. We had the first course served and then the group was totally neglected because, imagine - the daughter of the Prime Minister had her birthday party in the same restaurant. All the staff went to serve her party. A Prime Minister's daughter is extremely important. We waited for more than 30 min. Nobody came to serve us. When I found out the reason and talked with the manager he dared not tell his staff to serve the Americans. Can you imagine how the tour members took that? They were hungry, did not have much time due to the departure time, were hurt, had pre-paid the tour and the food, were treated as a "second" class or even worse - enemies. I went to check out what was going on. With the bad news I came to the group (I was a guide but it was in my country and my city). I told the tour director the real situation and he presented it in such a manner that all the members laughed loud. With a very nice sense of humor he told them the situation. They laugh and laugh and that laughter brought the manager’s attention who came as pale as a white sheet of paper. He was begging for silence being scared for his position and promised the world to the Americans if only they won't laugh so much and so loud. We finally had an extremely fast and perfect service plus a good laugh. I am sure that the tour members remembered that for long time, told it to their friends, and laughed over and over again.” I’m sure she is right. I always admire Bobi’s professionalism and commitment that every one of her groups have a great experience. Her attitude is always positive and she never seems to complain and is always grateful. Here’s an example of why I am so impressed and feel privileged to call her a friend.
“As for me - I am well, as I always am - never tired, never hungry, never sleepy. My last trip ended this week and it too, was a good one. I worked for a Bulgarian small company dealing with agriculture. They had their American partners on visit. Two Americans who never came to our part of the world and 8 Bulgarians were on a week trip round Bulgaria.
The great weather and off season everywhere was so peaceful and nice. Right after that trip a one day conference and a city tour with 2 busses with doctors from Balkan countries. Tomorrow I'll meet two gentlemen from the UK for a short two days and next weekend another two day excursion.
That is all for now, but I am glad I have those.I better close the present or you won’t have chance to take a break. Best of luck,Bobi”
This makes me smile since she’s concerned about my break. I hope you think of Bobi as you travel the world meeting your local tour guides. They are dedicated and work hard to share their countries, cities and attractions with you. It may not always be as easy as they make it look. I now share Bobi’s stories and words of wisdom in my Tour Director Training Guide ( She’s an excellent example of professionalism and what our career is really all about, helping others.