A big challenge facing the tours and activities sector continues to be the non-standardized nature of guide and tour leader training.
When a traveller books a tour or experience, there are few indicators which can reliably determine whether they will have excellent guides.
Online review sites and word of mouth recommendations can help, though they have their limitations.
Many highly touristed areas grapple with this challenge and have created licensing systems to help reduce fraud and encourage professionalism amongst their guides and tour leaders.
These guide certifications exist in cities such as Paris, Rome and New York, or sometimes at the national level such as in Israel or Egypt.
Many of these certifications are created to ensure that guides are communicating accurate information about the history, culture and natural geography of an area, but don’t delve deeply into developing many of the soft skills that set apart the truly exceptional guides.
These soft skills include things such as customer service training, problem solving, people skills, group management, storytelling and public speaking techniques.
Some private or state-sponsored schools exist to help those seeking a more formal education as a guide or tour director, but the coaching standard and curriculum vary from school to school.
Examples in North America include the International Tour Management Institute in San Fransisco, The International Guide Academy in Colorado, Canadian Tourism Colleges in British Columbia or the Québec Ministry of Tourism’s professional guide training programs.
This being said, from the perspective of the modern traveller there are simply a bewildering array of national, regional or local certifications for tour guides, all with varying degrees of effectiveness.
The largest and most successful travel companies invest significantly in their guide hiring and training processes, with many marketing their guides as their competitive advantage.
But for the small to medium sized tour and activity businesses, creating, developing and executing a robust training regime can be an daunting and time-consuming task.
One of the fastest growing industries over the past five years has been the rise of online learning. More people than ever before are turning to the web to learn new skills, develop industry specific knowledge, and pursue professional development through the web.
One of the most prominent success stories has been Lynda.com, recently acquired by Linkedin for $1.5 billion.
Lynda’s ability to attract high quality instructors, teaching highly sought after skills was one of the keys to their success. Their emphasis on technical training, coding and advanced coaching in hundreds of popular programs has allowed them to reach over four million people around the globe.
Udemy and Coursera (among others) have created open marketplaces where anyone can create online courses teaching just about anything. For some perspective, Inc.com reported that in 2011 about $35.6 billion was spent on e-learning wordwide. In 2015, only four years later, that number grew to $107 billion!
And so we might wonder, will the rise of online learning and e-courses reach the tourism industry as it has so many other sectors? And more specifically, can online learning ultimately drive higher customer satisfaction in the tour and activity sector?
Kelsey Tonner, the founder of the Be a Better Guide Academy, believes that it can. He and his team of tour guide trainers create online coaching programs aimed at tour leaders, tour guides and tour businesses.
“Any online training must offer results and a clear return on investment. Our programs focus on the people skills and attention to detail that separate the truly spectacular guides from the mediocre ones."
Kelsey, the founder and lead instructor, says the core idea is to have experienced guides share tips, techniques and industry secrets to wow’ing and delighting travellers. Their online programs include expert panels, video lessons and even live recordings of great guides in action.
The accessibility, flexibility and cost effectiveness of online training should make it appealing to any tour or activity business looking to drive quality in their tour leaders.
Whether the rise of online educational companies like Be a Better Guide will lead to greater standardization across the tour and activity sector remains to be seen.
However, in a world of increasingly accessible and affordable online training - tour companies committed to customer satisfaction have more tools available than ever before.