We share some of our favorite tips on tour guiding in a world recovering from COVID-19, with some expert advice from one of our latest Originals members, Red Cat Adventures, in Airlie Beach, Australia.
Travel and tourism have undergone unprecedented changes due to COVID-19, and we’ve been continually inspired and impressed by the resilience and flexibility of the guide community. Our own learnings, in combination with insights from guides and our travelers, have helped us adjust to the new normal.
Strict border closures and quarantine rules have meant that Australia has recovered from the pandemic quickly: since their summer season started ramping up in November 2020, there has been an incredible surge in travel internally. It’s very encouraging to see what the future might look like for tour guides like yourselves in the coming months elsewhere in the world. In light of this, we spoke to Australian-based company Red Cat Adventures and have included some of the best tips here.
Highlight the positives
Don’t talk too much about restrictions, limitations, and negative changes due to COVID-19. Instead, keep the tour centered around the positives like: the benefits of small groups; the lack of crowds; the potential to get closer to tour highlights; and the chance to tour at a more relaxed pace.
Not only do most regulations dictate that we must not gather in large groups, but this is also now the norm and what our customers desire. From our research, we know that customers feel more at ease with a small group or private tour and we should make the most of this whilst we can.
Find a replacement for contact
A year ago, you might have started your tour by shaking the hand of each of your customers and introducing yourself. During the tour, you might have put your hand on the shoulders of your customers as you ushered them into a vehicle. You might then have finished your tour with another handshake or even a hug goodbye.
We know that physical contact and a simple smile can build rapport with another person but masks and social distancing now make this more difficult. So why not come up with a fun way to keep your introductions and interactions as personable and engaging as before? A distanced fist bump, a fun fact, or a joke are all great ways of helping your customers still feel a connection with you. Additionally, unleash your inner actor and practice smiling with your eyes in the mirror.
Top tip: If you usually hand out a map or headsets on your tour, ask your customers to pick them up themselves, rather than handing them out yourself.
Review your recommendations
As a GetYourGuide Originals guide, you’ll be used to giving proactive recommendations to our travelers at the end of the tour, such as where else they should visit, where they should eat, and where to shop. Take the time to check that you’d still recommend these places: are they open now, do they follow hygiene guidelines, and would you still be happy for travelers to go there on your word? You could also adapt your suggestions to support small or local businesses that have really struggled this last year.
Be prepared for changes in traveler behavior
The world around us has changed a lot in the last year and so has human behavior. It’s totally normal now to expect to be briefed on hygiene measures whenever we do something in public. Travelers will expect this at the start of your tour so use this opportunity to set the ground rules and make everyone feel at ease.
Naturally, travelers may be more wary and sensitive towards big crowds. People might feel anxiety in situations that they didn’t before. Be conscious of potential stress moments in crowded places and tell the customers that they can alert the guide anytime they need to move to a quieter area.
COVID-19 has become the new “weather” of small talk. You’re bound to mention it before and during the tour, so we suggest making what you say relevant to the content of the tour, where possible. For example, if you’re in Spain, you could discuss the Spanish influenza of 1918 and how, contrary to popular belief, it didn’t actually originate in Spain.
Stay up to date and comply with COVID-19 rule changes
The golden rule here is to look out for your guests. Ensure each party maintains an appropriate distance for the duration of the tour. None of us want to be in tight spaces with others right now so depending on your tour (and the weather!), try to spend the majority of your time in open spaces. If logical, give explanations in outdoor locations or spacious areas before going into tighter spaces, where you could allow your group to enter alone and keep their distances inside.
It is vital that you are always aware of the latest rules and guidelines around COVID-19 in your local area, and of any sites visited, and that you are practicing them yourself and reinforcing them in your group. Red Cat Adventures told us how they keep themselves best informed: “We are a member of QTIC (Queensland Tourism Industry Council) and various government bodies who provide our industry with plenty of information in regards to COVID-19 changes. Usually, if something changes we are aware of it within minutes.”
The agency you work for may well provide you with updates but do take the time to ensure you are in-the-know and you are comfortable enforcing the rules on your tours.
For more expert tips on how to adapt your tour, check out this post.
Adapt to your new customer
For many of you, when tours relaunch, your first customers will be domestic travelers. If the summer of 2020 taught us anything it is that local travelers love to take guided tours. This trend was recognized by Red Cat Adventures who found that about 85% of its guests were international travelers pre-Covid-19. They noticed “a big rise in domestic traffic which has been great to see. Seeing other Aussies exploring their own backyard is just amazing”.
The biggest change Red Cat Adventures noticed in its customers was their swimming ability. The company found that Australians are generally great swimmers, but previously they had been used to international travelers whose abilities varied. They used to have to take a lot of care and effort to support those customers and give them a sense of security as they snorkeled for the first time. With their new customer not needing this, they have been allowed more time to focus their efforts on wowing them in other ways, for example, changing the style of catering for lunch to match Australian tastes, rather than international.
Take a look at this GetYourGuide blog post that shows how Spanish, Italian, French, British, and German top-visited locations changed at the end of 2020 to be more domestic-centric:
The most popular points of interest in 2019 for German Travelers
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The most popular points of interest in 2020 for German Travelers
The trend suggests this will be the case in some European countries this summer so we should prepare for this and see it as a great opportunity to make locals fall in love with their own country and see that they don’t have to travel far to see and learn about beautiful, inspiring, and interesting places. Red Cat went on to explain, “We have such an incredible country and so much to see within it. We have had to adapt to suit the current domestic market which has certainly kept us busy. There is a huge urge to travel and we are more than happy to meet those needs.”
Take some time to consider how you can tailor your tour to a more local market in the short-term and how you can impress customers (re)discovering their own country, whether it be how you present your content, the types of references you make, even the itinerary you take. And be sure to share what works with your fellow guides. Sometimes it can surprise you how little we know about our own country. We would suggest practicing your jokes and stories in the local language and adding some local, “inside” jokes!
Do you have any other tips that you think we should add to the list? We would love to hear from you.