How can you as a tour operator train your guests?

One of the biggest controversies with tourism is how travelers behave at the destination. Invasive tourists, drunken behaviour in public, tourists leaving plastic or even small brown greetings in nature, are rarely popular with the locals. 

We have talked to many guides and tour operators around the world. When we talk specifically about sustainability and responsible tourism, most of them believe the travelers are either responsible or not. Black or white, and nothing in between. Our experience, on the other hand, is that most travelers actually want to be responsible, but that they “forget” to be. It’s too inconvenient. 

This tells us two things. We need to make it easier to be responsible, and we need to remind travelers to be. That is part of our responsibility as hosts. Training your guides or staff to make guests be responsible is actually simple and it has great effect. And the best part is that it is manageable on just about any type of travel or trip. 

Sam H. Ham is a professor of communication psychology with focus on conserving natural environments. In the book “Interpretation: Making a difference on Purpose” he discusses how strategic guiding can change people’s perception and behavior. If you have the tools to influence your guests, you also have the power to protect your destination from some of the negative effects of tourism. In other words, a large and important responsibility.

In this article, I will outline some simple steps to influence your guests and how they can be integrated into your tours. 

How can tour guides train guests

First and foremost, there is a big difference between educating guests and teaching them. If you start telling them how to behave or somehow make them feel bad about how they act, then it will probably just cause those spikes to come out. They go into defensive mode and become less open to learning new things. 

Sam H. Hams says that you must first change a person’s beliefs in order to change their behavior. It is important to note that you as a guide only have control over the first step. After that, it is up to the guests to see how things are connected, and of course not everyone does.

The most important thing is to plant a seed. 

Another important thing is that when the guides understand how much power they really have to influence the guests’ behavior, it does something to them. And not just the guides. These techniques are suitable for anyone who meets the guests in one form or another during the visit, and thus has an indirect role as a host. Each destination has its own philosophy and its own desires about what good tourist behavior entails. 

Nevertheless, it is tour guides who are in the best position to educate the travelers in a way that benefits the local community. 

This is how Sam H. Ham’s method works. 

Step 1 – Create understanding

A great technique for getting travelers to understand “the local guidelines” is to emphasize what OTHER tourists normally / often do and how it affects the locals. So you are not pointing out what they specifically are doing wrong. 

Locals in fishing villages can get very annoyed at tourists who walk into their garden, or when they stop in the middle of the traffic to take pictures. Locals also get tired if tourists stop and block the sidewalks. An example could be if the guide says to the group: “Let us all move to the side so that we do not block the sidewalk, then I can explain what we are looking at. The narrow streets here are roads and people are busier than us. Let us not cause an accident ”. Another example is to tell the travelers about the tourists who tried to climb the famous mountain with jeans and high heels without food and had to be rescued”, to keep them from doing the same. 

This can be a quick comment, and seemingly spontaneous. The idea is to plant a seed. A kind of us against them effect. 

Step 2 – Understanding can lead to gratitude

If you succeed in creating an understanding that what you say makes sense, then perhaps your guests will be happy that you warned them. They may think that “at least I’m not going to fall into that trap”. 

Step 3 – Gratitude leads to faith

The gratitude and awareness of something they may not have been aware of before may lead them to believe. That is, them meaning the same thing. “I do not think tourists should go into people’s gardens” or “I do not think tourists should burden the rescue teams.

Step 4 – Faith leads to behavior

The most satisfying result of planting the seed in the consciousness of the guests is when the guest’s behavior matches your goal. When the guest quite naturally chooses to look at the houses of the locals from a distance, or themselves suggesting a tour that suits their level.

What if my guests don’t care? 

Many people believe that if you are pursuing sustainable tourism, then you need to use it for all that it’s worth in marketing. Many companies work hard on advertising it. Some also  say that the advertising doesn’t work. They still get the same guests even though they want “sustainability-focused guests”, and the guests who come are unaware of what they stand for.

Here’s the thing: your guests probably don’t care. 

Sustainability and responsibility is not something you advertise, it is something you do. It is not about changing your current customer base. Responsible tourism is in your values, in everything you do. How you carry out the tours, how you train the customers, and where you buy the food you offer your guests. Most guests will hardly notice it. But the way you communicate and lead by example will influence them in the right direction. Responsible behavior such as cutting out plastic, not leaving traces in nature, and using local goods, is a good place to start. 

If you plant small seeds based on “how we do it around these parts”, you have a great opportunity to influence. And the locals might eventually notice a difference between your guests and others. 

Remember that no one really wants to be “those annoying tourists”. Most people have a desire to sneak in naturally and not be recognized as a tourist. You can help them navigate safely and steadily in the local customs, and tell them the little secret codes that they need in order to be welcomed.  

At the same time, you help make your destination a better place for both those who live there and the visitors. 

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