What constitutes a good tourist guide?

Old Aug 19th, 2007, 06:27 AM
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What constitutes a good tourist guide?

The reason for my asking is because we have a shortage of guides in South Africa and often we are asked to make recommendations of tour companies and/or guides.
What are some of your expectations/experiences?

Is it the knowledge they impart?
Is it about the freindly conversation?
Is it about enthusiasm?
africanj is offline  
Old Aug 19th, 2007, 07:19 AM
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Wow! A shortage of guides in SA? In Cape Town alone there are over 3000 qualified tourguides of whom no more than 400 are working on a fulltime of close to full time basis. Most of the rest are all available to be hired.

In the tourism industry there is a term known as "popcorn guides". This relates to the fact that the tourguide schools are nothing other than businesses that are crammed up with fee paying students. These institutions push out as many fledgeling tourguides as possible every year. I know about this because I do part time lecturing at one of these places of learning. These tourguides come out well qualified except for one area and that is "how to market themselves". The result is they leave tourguide school and expect the tourism world to simply open up for them. As you can well imagine it does not happen that way. So guess what happens? They go pop! Hence the name popcorn guides.

Rest assured you should have your pick when it comes to finding guides in Cape Town or for that matter South Africa becasue the above happens all over the country. With that said I think your question is a very interesting one and in response I would say the following, in no particular order as all of the below are important, would in my opinion be characteristics to look out for when it comes to recommending or finding a good tourguide.

Organisational ability

Communication skills - Language use can be very important here.




Level of knowledge



Responsibility especially if the guide is a driver too.

Punctuality and reliability

Sense of humour.

Passion for tourguiding.

Passion for city or country or whatever the guide is guiding eg safari

Empathy (especially for the slower members of a tourgroup)

Most important - Pride of his/her tourguide badge.

Looking at the above factors I can assure you that you will not have to look too far to find the above sort of tourguide in South Africa.

Let me also add another tip that I use when travelling. I never book a tourguide upfront before I travel. What I do is I go to the part of the city that I am in where I am bound to find many tourguides. In Cape Town Table Mountain and the penguin colony are two of these sort of places. What I then do is I latch onto English speaking tours for a minute or so. The intention of doing this is to do nothing other than listen to the guide and evaluate whether he/she is friendly, knowledgeable and exudes passion for what he/she is doing. I have to admit a lot of gut feel comes into play when doing this evaluation. Once I find a guide who seems to have what I am looking for I approach him/her personally and ask him/her whether I can hire their services in private capacity. This has always worked for my wife and myself wherever we have travelled. Furthermore I have learnt so much more than most from these wonderful tourguides, as a matter of fact I have made many very genuine tourguide friends in this manner all over the world.

So there you have it africanj - Straight from the tourguides mouth.

Very proudly part of the wonderful nation of South Africa
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Old Aug 19th, 2007, 07:29 AM
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yes to all of the above but definitely mostly knowledge, and a broad range - I am interested in the flora and general natural history of an area, and I have a child interested in reptiles, for example.
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Old Aug 21st, 2007, 12:11 AM
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In addition to Selwyn's excellent post, I'll add one more thing (perhaps a detail added to "trustworthiness") to the question of what constitutes a good tourist guide?

Not taking any kickbacks from places they recommend. I had a wonderful tour guide who took us to a fabulous restaurant for lunch (we requested great food). We treated him and had a great, memorable meal. I found out from two other tour guides later that this restaurant never gives any kickbacks, so they were impressed with this guide. And so were we. He picked it only because he knew it was excellent and we would enjoy it.
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Old Aug 22nd, 2007, 12:06 AM
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Perhaps i should have said good guides. Anyway, i don't want to generalise or paint a negative picture. Our good guides are excellent and work all the time.
Re:evaluation of guides
I have often misjudged guides. I have come to the conclusion that as long as the clients are happy, thats great. Every guide is different and so is every person.

In defence of the restaurants, i have only been made such an offer once. I used them and did not take their offer. i used then because they were excellent.

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Old Aug 22nd, 2007, 01:19 PM
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I guess as a client I'd (mentally) divide 'guides' into two groups (and I realise it's not a hard division and there is a lot of overlap!): 'Wildlife' guides - the guys who do the game drives / walks / information and the 'Tour company' who does the organising, driving, paper-work... Sometimes they are the same guy, but often not.

Selwyn's post covered pretty much everything I'd look for in the 'Tour Company' side, so I'll list what I like for the wildlife side.

The very best wildlife guides - the ones I ask after and will actively look to visit camps were they will be are:

- interested in *everything* around them (elephants, lions, beetles, cloud formations, different types of grass seed, and when all else fails - the job the guests do...)
- totally focused on the job, often to the extent of going on many more courses then required for the minimum qualification (and sometimes, ofc, they have no qualification at all, but still have that attitude of wanting to keep learning and discovering!)
- great story-tellers - as in 'This hyena is called Coffee because she's always raiding the kitchen area after she once managed to steal the coffee pot, so everything must be hung at least 8' off the ground...long story about hyenas jumping...' (in any language - sometimes they didn't speak English) Make it memorable!
- competant with the tools of their trade, be that changing a tyre, catching spiders, or loading a rifle

The converse occurs occasionally and you get a guide who assumes you must only be there to see the lions and does nothing but park you beside a pride several days in row (despite questions and encouragement). Now I like lions, I really do... but how many sleepy lions can you look at??? One has to assume they have no particular knowledge and no real interest in the wildlife around them - it's just a job... I won't be back in any hurry!

Self-confidence is important too! When it all goes pear-shaped (and sometimes it will - T.A.B!) I'd like not to have to hold the guide's hand because it's scary!

Here's to Leon, Orlando, Bibi, Haumaka, Cutta, Paul, Andrew and others who have made the African bush a place I love! And set my expectations at a crazy high level
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