How to Spot a Great Guide
What are a guide’s most important skills, and what can a great guide add to a journey? I posed these questions to nine of the Adventure Collection’s top guides. Here’s what they had to say.
What are a guide’s most important skills?
Philip Kibet Rono, Micato Safaris: A good guide has to be able to see things that an untrained eye cannot. They have to be able to read animal behavior, and understand and adapt to the dynamics of the bush. To be able to get in and out of tight spots, and to identify unique opportunities for exploring. Oh, and it is important to have a sense of humor! If there is one thing a good guide learns, it is to be able to laugh — and hopefully make others laugh at the same time.
Eric Rock, Natural Habitat Adventures: Communication and patience. Listening to travelers share their experiences gives a guide a solid platform from which to lead an experience. All our guides are great at taking what they learn from the traveler and plugging it into the trip at hand. I also think humor helps out a lot!
Jeffe Aronson, OARS: Keeping the folks calm and safe as they are taken way beyond their comfort levels. Getting them through while making sure they don’t miss the magic.
Vassi Koutsaftis, Geographic Expeditions: Guides have to have a “sixth sense” that allows them to “feel” what is going on within their group, also patience and responsibility. A guide should also have a focused pride that he or she is with the most important group in the field at the time.
Pam Fritz, Backroads: It is such a multifaceted position that it is hard to pick just a few skills. But I would highlight compassion, communication, knowledge, problem-solving, organization, a good sense of humor and enthusiasm. Above all, the ability to relate to people – both the travelers on your trip and the locals that you encounter along the way – is essential to making your guests feel comfortable and connected to the places you visit.
Michael Olsthoorn, Canadian Mountain Holidays: Communication. Of course, you have to have all the hard skills — climbing, skiing, hiking, knowing the flowers and wildlife. But you have to have the soft skills too – communication, understanding the dynamics of your group. You have to be able to take those hard skills and put them into a working environment — that’s the key.
Mike Greenfelder, Lindblad Expeditions: A guide needs to take into account what do the guests want, not necessarily what he or she wants, and then attempt to give it to them in a fun, educational, safe, and inspirational way. It is a balancing act of humor, knowledge, decision-making, risk-taking, and juggling.
Nathanael Dodge, Off the Beaten Path: Empathy and listening to clients’ wants and needs, risk management, knowledge of the area, sense of humor, and the ability to pick a decent wine to go with the salmon.
What does a great guide add to a journey?
Jeffe Aronson, OARS: The best rafting guides stay out of the way. They share of themselves and their knowledge, and remember that it’s all about the river, not them. They’re patient with the same question they’ve heard a million times, helpful to the biggest klutz on the trip, and keep an eye out, not only for trouble, but for that singular, fleeting moment. They may be musicians, storytellers, jesters, professors, great cooks, best companions, or, of course, excellent boatmen. Either way, they must have a keen sense for each of their pards and their clients, and watch for the hole that needs filling, or the rainbow that needs an “Ah!” to keep it going.
Vassi Koutsaftis, Geographic Expeditions: Peace of mind, sense of security, fun.
Pam Fritz, Backroads: A good guide will ensure that a trip runs smoothly and they can customize the journey to ensure that the guests’ expectations are met. But a great guide will open their eyes to new and exciting experiences that they may never have dreamed were possible. They will add personal touches, a sense of comfort, laughter, and inside experiences. The goal is to provide a journey or experience that the guest will take home with them and continue to reflect upon, long after the actual trip is over.
Mike Greenfelder, Lindblad Expeditions: A good guide adds the skills to make a good journey into a fantastic journey. Finding the moment or location that will create an experience of a lifetime, and then successfully interpreting it, but still allowing the traveler to hear it, smell it, feel it, smell it, and maybe even taste it.
Nathanael Dodge, Off the Beaten Path: Safety, knowledge, ease of travel, and the secret spots and info travelers might otherwise miss.
Philip Kibet Rono, Micato Safaris: He or she adds depth to the safari experience. Our guests come a long way to see Africa, and a guide’s knowledge and skill can be the difference between a good experience and an outstanding one that people will remember all their lives. So a great guide is skilled in getting their guests “behind the scenes.” He or she introduces them to unique people and fascinating places that travelers might not get to see: not only showing guests a destination, but letting them experience it. He or she also makes sure that a safari is seamless, so that the biggest thing weighing on a guest’s mind is what to have for dessert! It is also important to provide perspective and alternative viewpoints on matters pertaining to our local people, so guests fully understand the issues facing Africans today.
Eric Rock, Natural Habitat Adventures: “Journey” is an excellent word. I believe a good guide is able to take a traveler to a deeper understanding of place, so that it is no longer just a trip but a holistic experience.
Michael Olsthoorn, Canadian Mountain Holidays: A good guide needs to be a bit of an entertainer, needs to be able to fill in the gaps; he also needs to know how to read the guests and fulfill their goals and objectives. We have guide meetings twice a day and spend a lot of time each evening and morning planning the day’s activities so that everyone will be as satisfied as possible. Every day I also like to give people some alone time for them to reflect on the day a little bit. This gives people a chance to remember those special moments, to realize ‘Wow, it was so peaceful up there’. Trying to build that in is a neat thing too.