The Importance of Guide Training for Educational Travel

Have you ever been on a guided tour and impressed by your guide’s knowledge and enthusiasm? They can make or break a tour experience. From engaging your students to demonstrating mastery of the destination, they’re like the conductors of educational group tours – making sure each facet comes together in perfect harmony. 

We’re turning the tables in this blog post and putting our Lead Guide, Timothy Smith, in the hot seat to discuss our recent tour guide training in Washington, D.C., and why he’s so passionate about this hands-on, personalized approach to providing our groups with the very best guides.

What is the most important aspect of guide training?

There are several fundamentals to guide training, like commentary, logistics, group management.  But the cornerstones have to be vision and safety.  I see vision like purpose – having guides with a vision and clear purpose for why we do these tours is foundational.  But we can’t forget safety.  Every guide, teacher, student wants to enjoy their tour, which can’t happen if safety is neglected.  Both of these are a little bit secret, but vital to guide training.   

Why is it essential to conduct guide training? 

The teachers and schools we work with to conduct these educational opportunities are more than just clients to us.  Each relationship is important, and every one of their students’ experiences is significant.  Without guide training, we would just be hoping/wishing that guides delivered a good trip.  High-quality tour guiding is very difficult, and with guide training we can do everything in our power to help guides deliver trips that are memorable and wonderful for all involved.  We take joy in going the extra mile to make these experiences memorable!

The desire for travel is growing and we’re thrilled to see our groups growing along with it (sometimes doubling in size!). And when that happens, we are thrilled to provide additional top-of-the-line guides to ensure our larger groups still have a personalized experience and all of the support they need. 

What do you look for in a guide for Global Travel Alliance?

First and foremost, we want our guides to be about people.  At the end of the day, educational travel is about relationships and investing in people.  When the guides are invested in the students and teachers on their tour, that tour is going to be successful.  Students are intuitive, and if they perceive the guide truly cares about their experience on tour, they’re more likely to listen and pay attention.  The more that happens, the more educational and impactful the tour is. And that’s a successful tour! 

How do we secure the best guides for our student groups?

It’s multifaceted.  Primarily it’s through treating guides well and earning recommendations and referrals from other guides.  But recruiting is multi-faceted, too.  It’s going to guide conferences to recruit, watching and listening to other guides when on tour, and having an antenna for people who would be excellent candidates.  Some incredible guides aren’t only guides, they are teachers, for instance, who spend some of their “off” time guiding tours.  We’re always interested in recruiting good people, even if that means we train them from square one.  

For those who may not know, what’s the difference between our guides being with our groups 24/7 and “step-on” guides or full-time guides (that aren’t 24/7)? 

A vastly different experience.  Generally speaking, step-on guides are there to give you commentary on the sites you are visiting.  They have knowledge of the location(s) and deliver their commentary, stories, etc.  The full-time (24/7) guide does that, and everything else, including all logistics, group management, etc.  They will take care of everything from the timing of your entire day, to finding that student’s wallet that was left behind at the museum, to arranging the exact right time and place for your motorcoach pickup at each location.  Essentially, if you find yourself thoroughly enjoying the tour – that’s your guide making our magic happen behind the scenes!  All of this on top of delivering the stories and commentary necessary for a wonderful educational experience.  They are teachers and majordomos, all in one!

How did it feel being in D.C. with this group of guides? 

Encouraging.  To be in Washington, D.C. after a nearly 2 year absence was encouraging, especially to see it ready for business.  Adding to that was a wonderful group of guides that made for a special time training together.  Each has unique talents to bring to tours, and I am excited for them to get out on the road with us.  Overall, us getting to know these new guides and them gaining a better understanding of the logistics and commentary of the city, as well as our policies and procedures from safety to efficiency, all while touring/training in one of the world’s most unique cities was good for my neglected touring soul.   

How does a guide impact the overall experience students have on tour? 

It’s the difference in being handed a textbook and having a knowledgeable, passionate, engaging teacher walk you through the textbook.  The fact is, many of the sites and activities experienced on these tours are enjoyable as is.  But you don’t know what you don’t know, and guides can bring to life some of the sites in ways you wouldn’t expect.  And then there is the tour environment.  Guides can take a normal 4 day educational tour and make it an experience that students will cherish the entirety of their lives.  There are scads of stories I could tell you about how tour guides positively influenced a student’s life in just a few days. I love to hear when a guide makes such an impact that a group leader specifically requests them in the future! 

OK, now you have to tell us at least one! What’s one of your favorite guide impact stories?

I tell this story frequently, but it’s just so powerful.  It was a routine tour of Washington, D.C. in 2019, but our guide noticed the culture among the students was strained, negative even.  She noticed one student seemed ostracized, picked on, basically unwanted by the others.  It was at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial that the guide, herself an African-American, spoke powerfully about how that particular memorial addresses bullying.  After the moving commentary one of the students came up to the ostracized student and, with tears in her eyes, apologized for her bullying.  There was immediate reconciliation.  More than that, the mood of the entire group and trip changed after that powerful memorial, and we once again saw bridges built and no doubt, lives changed, all because of the influence of a guide. That story really exemplifies how a guide can make a tour come to life.

How can an educator (group leader) determine if they’re getting the best guide support when evaluating a student group tour proposal? 

Ask questions.  Are they with the group the entire tour (24/7) or “step-on”?  Does the company do guide training?  If so, ask how they do training.  What type of guides do they have – student-friendly ones?!  What approach does the company have towards their guides? Is there a second guide or support guide provided for larger groups? Guides are crucial, and any company deserving of business will have a purposeful approach to a vital component of all student travel.

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