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TOUR LEADERS and TOURIST EXPERIENCES
“It took us a long time to shake off this strong Costa Rica feeling – not so much the country itself, but the way we experienced it,” was how one tourist explained the way he had experienced his holiday was just as important as seeing a number of tourist highlights. The letter this tourist sent shows us that the way a tourist experiences a group tour has become a focal point, something that has not always been the case. In general we can see that the way tourists experience a tour and live their experiences have changed in recent years. First of all, let’s see how the different actors are related.
Tourism and Tour Leaders
The most important characteristic of a tourist product is the fact that it is being consumed at the destination and not at the client’s home. This means that in order to consume the product, the tourist must first travel to the product and consequently the basis has been laid for what we call tourism: somebody moving to a site where there is a tourist attraction of some kind, such as a beach destination, indigenous pyramids, a concert, nature reserve or special sports event. The tourist travels to the product to experience (consume) it. The sublime moment in tourism is the instant when a tourist starts to live an experience or, in other words, when he starts to consume Impact Calories (ImpCal). The intake and processing of ImpCal lead to an experience and that is exactly what the tourist is looking for. The tourist wants to have an experience and that is only possible when he is using his own senses and absorbing ImpCal, later to be processed into an inner experience. In fact, the tourist pays for the possibility of consuming ImpCal and the processing of ImpCal starts at the beginning of his journey when he closes his front door behind him. ImpCal can be taken in during the trip to the destination, at arrival and finally, when he reaches the main attraction (Main Impact Sourceor Impsource), which was the reason for his going there in the first place. Nearby there may be smaller tourist attractions developed for tourists, the so-called Side Impsources. Apart from these, there is the normal entourage involving local daily life, the Shared Impsources that may also be interesting for the tourist. Another possible ImpCal intake can be produced by chance meetings or sudden occurrences, the Incidental Impsources. To create opportunities for tourists to visit places and have ImpCal intake of some sort, many travel organizations deal with advertising and selling possible experiences. This may involve travel stores, tour operators or travel guides. In short, tourism consists of a large number of people, organizations, hotels or other types of buildings, means of transport and many other entities that form a complicated pattern of networks and relations. The tourist forms part of these networks, as do tour leaders and guides.
When you travel alone or with family, you don’t have to deal with a tour leader, but you may have a specialized local guide who can tell you all about the site you are visiting and enhance your ImpCal intake while providing the instruments for a better processing of ImpCal and – as a consequence – a broader experience. In other words, the guides can point out details that tourists may not have noticed otherwise; this guide can also create more understanding and explain background so the tourist may look at things differently.
In travelling with a group, there is apt to be a tour leader who is hired by the travel organization where the tour was booked. This tour leader is supposed to provide his or her group with all the necessary information and explain what can be done and what can be seen (how to live the experience); he or she has to make sure the tourist is wearing the right kind of shoes and, in general, that the tourist is well prepared for what he is going to experience. In other words, ImpCal intake must be optimized. The tour leader has to make sure that everything promised to the tourists is implemented (or at least offered). The tour leader is expected to relate well to the group, makes sure the group is in the right mood and deals with all the wishes the tourist may express. Obviously the tour leader is supposed to tackle any problem that may occur, whether of a logistic or psychological nature. For most people this is what is expected from a tour leader and little else. However, when concepts such as sustainability and globalization started to develop and their influence became overt, the functions of the tour leader started to change and a different set of requirements were demanded.
Tourism and Globalization
Mobility is inherent to tourism and that means that we are confronted with another set of concepts: local versus far away. The Impsource is at one place, while the tourist comes from somewhere else – from another region, country or continent. The notion of the tourist product being at one place and the consumer coming from another, and the relation that exists between these two places are concepts that have been changing drastically from the late 1980s on. Since that time a greater interconnectedness in all aspects of daily life worldwide has induced the notion of globalization – a contemporary catchword for this process. Tourism is seen as a cause as well as consequence of global transformation. As a cause, it has induced global flows of people, ideas, images and capital. As an effect, tourism results from increasing global interconnectedness of economic, technological and socio-cultural transformations. Most people know more or less what the concept of globalization refers to, but it may be useful to summarize its most important influences:
1. At the level of communications:
This includes worldwide long haul air transport, worldwide web, Internet telephoning, cell phones, chatting, blogs and, on another level, international reservation systems such as GRS or Amadeus. The Internet is opening up still more forms of communications, such as customer reactions on forums and blogs.
2. At the international financial level:
There are now worldwide payment possibilities through travellers’ cheques, credit cards, automatic teller machines (ATM) for cash and on-line payments.
3. The rise of world markets,
through the GATS and free trade agreements. Everywhere in the world you can get Coca Cola or buy Kodak products. More than 75% of world trade is in the hands of transnational companies. Many international pension funds and insurance companies are big investors in tourism projects among others. Airlines merge and set up large hotel chains (Air France/KLM – Golden Tulip Hotels). In tourism we can see the same trend: tour operators with offices in different countries (Thomas Cook chain for example).
4. Growing International Organizations:
the number is increasing and within the scope of this paper we can mention UNEP (United Nations Environmental Programme), WTTC (World Travel Tourism Council) or the World Wildlife Fund. At the airline level there is the IATA (International Air Transport Association). On an environmental level we can also mention Greenpeace and in the field of human rights there is Amnesty International. In the field of sustainability, Rainforest Alliance is one example of many global organizations.
5. A greater consciousness of the world as one big global village.
English has become a universal language; global icons are often coming from the Disney stable, generalized representations can be found in expressions such as “tropical beach” or “Caribbean atmosphere”. At the sports level the Olympic Games are an example. On television, networks such as Animal Planet and Discovery Channel are worldwide trend-setters.
In the last century Zutphen and Samara were two villages located on two different continents – one in Holland and the other in Costa Rica. They did not know of each other’s existence. Geographical distances have not changed, but on communications and financial levels, the distance between the two villages has shrunk dramatically. Both communities have hooked into global system structures and therefore have become closer one to the other. Nowadays, the Zutphener visiting Samara gets his money from a cash machine, pays with a credit card and therefore has no idea what things costs in local money; he knows beforehand where to find the best restaurants, checks his mail in an Internet café or phones home on his mobile phone. The tourist in Samara walks around as if in his normal daily routine, since there are things familiar to him even though he is on another continent. There are many tourist destinations that were a bit scary 20 years ago and quite exotic, but nowadays most places on earth have something familiar about them – due to this globalization process.
There is a basic difference between the globalization process and sustainability. Globalization is being propelled by market principles and consumer patterns, but in the case of sustainability this is not yet the case. The discussion around sustainability comes to the fore, because many things in the world are going wrong: biodiversity is diminishing, ozone layers are affected, the greenhouse effect is becoming noticeable, large populations are being ignored and in general there are so many symptoms that it starts to look like a disease. The principles of sustainability were developed to stop these negative effects. If you want to make a list of sustainable conduct for tourists, it may look like a list of only negative things that should be avoided or not done. However, better contact with a local population,better insight into their culture and a better understanding of how a community developed or a landscape was formed, are all added values compared to the explorer of earlier days or the mass tourist, who travels for thousands of miles to end up in a fast food restaurant – a possible consequence of globalization.
The process of sustainable development in general produces a number of consequences for the development of tourism and therefore for tourists, too. Apart from the fact that Impsources have to work cleaner and more sustainably, and obviously the same holds true for the infrastructure nearby, the tourist himself will come under increasing pressure to be sustainable in his behaviour.
However, globalization is not a well defined concept and actually there are people who wonder whether this concept exists at all. They claim that globalizing tendencies are as old as humanity, but nowadays things are just a bit faster. Another point to remember is that with modern technology contacts among people may have intensified, this does not mean that people are getting closer. An example is the relationship between a tourist and a local population, as explained in another article on this web site (see http://www.tourismtheories.org/?cat=66 )
Tourists then and now
Let’s see to what extent the globalization and sustainability concepts have changed tourist behaviour. Apart from these two macro-influences, there have been others. Average income has increased, especially in the Western world, and in most cases people take more holidays than before. During the second half of the 20th century people had one long holiday per year (usually 2 – 3 weeks), but by the end of last century most people – at least in Western Europe – enjoyed two short and one long holiday per year. Another factor influencing tourist behaviour is the lower retirement age and increased life expectancy, which means that more elderly people are travelling than before. Another external change is higher work pressure affecting the labour force resulting in stress.
On the basis of all these considerations we can have a look at whether the behaviour of the tourist himself has changed from the 1970s onwards. However, since our main aim in this chapter concerns tour leaders, we shall limit ourselves to group travel only.
- Up until the 1990s, group travel was mainly concentrated on journeys within the tourist’s country of origin. Outside their own country most travel parties visited sunny beach areas, as in the case of Spain. In Mexico the development of large beach resorts began in the 1970s. These holidays were quite straightforward and consisted only of transport to the beach destination and a single hotel there. A full time tour leader or guide was usually not needed. At the same time, there has always been a select group of travellers interested in faraway destinations, often with exotic touches. They too travelled in groups, since that was the only possibility for making such an adventurous journey. For these groups travelling to distant continents, the adventure part was very important – their prime travel motivation was not for nice social group life. Each person individually wanted to taste the exotic atmosphere and high ImpCalintake was essential. Those journeys were always full of the unexpected, it was never certain that a hotel was awaiting the group at the end of the day and the travel programme had to be changed often because of local conditions. Each tourist imagined himself to be a real explorer. These tourists had to be flexible. The mostly encountered Impsources were shared Impsources (among others, because of the use of public transport) and incidental Impsources. This type of tourist came from a higher economic stratum and usually did his “homework” on gathering information about the destination. This tourist often had a more idealistic view than those going to sunbathe in Spain (see the : http://www.tourismtheories.org/?cat=104).
- During the nineties a different type of group travel arose: high volume, low prices, limited number of tourist highlights and strict programmes were the main characteristics. The unpredictable element of a journey disappeared and with it a certain romanticism. Local agents had to ensure flawless handling of all hotel and transport reservations. An important consequence was that the tour leader could concentrate much more on social life with the group and had time to relate more to the tourists. The tourist selected this type of travelling because he felt safer and he had an interest in participating in the social part of group travel. In other words, this type of groups opened up possibilities to visit exotic, faraway continents that were always considered too scary and strange for travelling there alone, while offering the fun of travelling with others; the group had a rather introverted character towards other cultures and participants often had egocentric attitudes (and less use of shared Impsources). Travellers from all walks of life enrolled in this type of group travel. The exact content of the travel programme opened up new ways of ventilating complaints or even demanding refunds when parts of the programme were not offered as advertised.
- At the start of the 21st century a shift can be noticed regarding patterns of tourist travel expectations – most noticeably with long haul destinations. Tourists are looking more for destinations where they have some idea of what to expect from things they have seen on television, or from recommendations made by family members, acquaintances or colleagues. The tourist tends to have certain fixed images of what to expect and quite often knows something about it. A tourist choosing a safari in Africa does so because he has seen a lot about it on television and the Internet (globalization point 5). In other words, there are more information sources thanks to globalization processes, on which one can base his choice of holiday destination and expectation patterns are adjusted accordingly. There is a growing demand not only for main Impsources, but also for smaller new tourist ‘products’, such as the side Impsources (usually found by tourists on the Internet). People seem to have more money to spend on holidays and group tours tend to last longer or tourists book some kind of extension afterwards. Due to higher income and longer holidays, the tourist has become more experienced over the years. In practice they may not always show this (people are people), but earlier experiences have lead to growing referential frameworks and the tourist can experience more, as well as more ‘complicated’ Impsources. We can all enjoy the sight of an enormous waterfall, but to really appreciate a cloud forest fully, some additional experience is needed. With the years tourists tend to be more experienced and previous holidays are often compared to their present trip. Obviously this may lead to wrong expectation patterns: Thailand is not like Ecuador and Kenya is not like Canada. The same holds true for expectation patterns based on impressive nature films, often exaggerated by tall stories from friends “who were there.” The latter can be noticed from the participation in forums on the Internet, which apparently enjoy quite a lot of popularity. Former prejudices such as “Africa is full of snakes” or “you can catch terrible diseases in the tropics” are vanishing. Tourists tend to be better prepared as far as information is concerned, they know a little better what to expect and most worries or anguish are gone (globalization point 5). This means that there are moments when they can start to relax, stop comparing everything with their home country and open their eyes to really watch what is around them. Life in western countries has become so hectic there is a growing demand for holidays with a spiritual character, incorporating elements of yoga or meditation into the group’s programme. This may mean a greater interest in local cultures (shared Impsources) and direct contact with a local population seems to be of growing interest to western tourists. There is also a trend toward voluntary work in developing countries as part of a holiday. Independently, Tour Operators have started to incorporate visits to local schools or they organize donations to local projects that can be visited by the tourists. And with regard to sustainable development, increasing pressure is being exerted on tourists to make their own behaviour more sustainable by means of mitigating harmful effects caused to nature or the environment; other examples are the careful use of electricity or separating garbage for recycling purposes. Just selecting a holiday destination itself may involve considerations of sustainability.
So far, we have outlined some developments concerning tourist travel behaviour for group travel. It is now time to return to our statement at the beginning of this chapter, that the role for tour leaders to play is also subject to change.
Tour leaders then and now
- During the seventies and eighties tour leaders worked mostly on bus or rail trips to beach destinations and only a small fraction of them guided adventure groups. These trips were real adventures: travelling with US$ 20.000 in their pockets of group money, they had to pay all hotels on arrival and make reservations for the next tour – hoping that the hotels would remember these for the next group and have room. All local tours, transport, entry fees and local guides had to be arranged on the spot and paid for. To make sure the tourist always had drinking water available was quite a job and in general the logistics of the tour consumed most of his time. Additionally, most local communities did not depend on tourism at that time and for them it was just a nice way to earn a little extra. To make fixed, long term arrangements was difficult and the tour leader (like the tourists) had to be very flexible indeed. The tour leader was also influential with the programming of group tours, what had to be included and which hotels to use. The bus driver (or any other assistant) used to be a trusted friend who also had to deal with all kinds of unexpected situations. Apart from this, public transport was used frequently. Knowledge of the language and culture of the country visited was important. What the people experienced in the end depended very much on each person himself.
- During the nineties the number of groups travelling to other continents increased considerably and on a much larger scale local agents were used to handle reservations, hotel payments, and so on. The tour leader’s task was simplified as far as logistics were concerned and the romantic and unpredictable side of the journey disappeared. The tour leader himself became an experienced traveller, proud of having visited more than 20 countries. At the start of this chapter we outlined what was expected from the tour leader. One of the important differences with the previously mentioned adventure groups was that the travel programme had to be executed exactly as published; itineraries became rigid and on this basis the tourist obtained access to various ways of filing complaints (e.g. in Holland a special tourist complaints commission was established). This meant that the tour leader received a different type of pressure than before. The tour leader no longer had any influence on how the itineraries and programmes were composed. Social life became more important within the group and the tour leader needed more time for this part of the job. Another important element for the tour leader was the practice of gaining commissions from local excursions sold directly to the tourist; it became an important source of income for both the tour leader and the driver of the bus. The drivers hardly played any role anymore with this sort of group travel and the high volume of group tours meant that many drivers saw their job as routine and stopped interacting with tourists. Ability to speak the local language not as important as before, especially when there were always local guides available at main Impsources. Side Impsources had to be ‘pushed’ (paying commissions), while shared and incidental Impsources hardly played any role since there was little time to make stops on the way from one hotel to the next.
- During the beginning of 21st century some tendencies became noticeable and under the influence of globalization and sustainability processes the tourists started to see things with slightly different eyes. These developments as outlined above lead us to some of the different ways a tour leader has for handling the different expectation patterns of the tourist, his better preparation, the effects of all the impressive nature films on television, the image of “forests as zoos without fences”, and a greater demand for specific information (not only technical, but also about people and culture). Tourists show more interest in having contact with the local population and the tour leader has to play more and more the role of translator between the tourist and their attitudes on one hand, and the locals and their ideas on the other (and speaking the local language is important). Thus the tour leader is regaining some more importance as far as the composition of the itineraries is concerned and serves as an important ‘tool’ for hotel evaluation based on the reactions of the tourists; the incorporation of local populations and socio-cultural local projects into itineraries has also provided new possibilities for the tour leader to influence the content of a complete journey. How to handle recycling or how to behave in a sustainable responsible way have become new challenges for the tour leader to explain to tourists. Little by little the drivers (or other crew members) are interested in participating more with the group, since they are representing the locals in a certain way. Then there is the point of a growing awareness of sustainable development in a country or region. A tour leader may play an important role in this respect; not only through adequate information supply but also by forcing tourists to implement certain sustainable measures (see the chapter on “Tourists and Sustainability”). Finally, in earlier days communication with the local agent or tour operator was very difficult in remote areas. The tour leader was on his own and had to make all the decisions. Nowadays, GSM telephones mean that a tour leader can have contact with the various offices all the time and thanks to GPS satellite systems he knows where he is and it is hard to get lost.
Changes for Tour leaders
Tour leaders and Tourist Experiences is the title of this chapter. When travel expectations and experiences change, this must lead to a similar shift in the way tour leaders lead tours. They are connected to many different networks: the Tour Operator, the local agent, the various hotels (especially reception and/or reservation staff), transport companies, restaurant managers, tourist contacts via the Internet, national park staffs, the members of the group themselves and many others; the number of networks a tour leader has to relate to is ever increasing and more intense. Many contacts are with those sectors that sell holiday arrangements or organize excursions, while another part refers to contacts with Impsources directly, infrastructure (hotels, bars, souvenir stores, etc.) and obviously with the tourists, as individuals, as groups, during the holiday and afterwards.
We should always keep in mind that the process of experiencing is something very personal and therefore one tourist will experience things differently from others. This means that the same Impsource may generate different experiences depending on the public. It also means that the same Impsource can be offered by a tour leader to tourists in different ways. This holds true not only for tour leaders, but even on government levels: when the tourism board of a country decides to direct their promotion campaigns to one particular country (the USA for example), all descriptions of main Impsources will be geared towards that market. On the basis of globalizing processes, the variety of international markets has increased considerably, which means that any type of Impsource can be presented in different ways depending on the target market. In our case of the tour leaders, this leads us to the point that a tour leader can describe an Impsource in different ways, depending on the type of tourist he is talking to. An excursion to the Amazon may be offered with an emphasis on a visit to some local tribe; however, for some tourists this may sound a bit scary, and this same excursion may be sold as a bird-watching trip. Tour Operators in the tourists’ country of origin often have a lot to say on this matter and tour leaders can also be quite creative in this respect. We should not forget that anything offered to tourists is only a possibility of having ImpCal intake, which leaves the Tour Operators a lot of room for manoeuvring when describing a certain tourist attraction for a certain public.
The bridge between tourists and local populations can be crossed both ways. By explaining local customs and a population’s ways of living to tourists and more specifically, the issue of waste disposal or how to handle the situation when certain products are scarce, the tour leader may invite tourists to come up with solutions for a local population. Functioning as a bridge also means that the tour leader has to have quite a bit of knowledge about a population, their ways of life, the landscapes they live in and their culture and nature in general. The levels of knowledge are pushed ever higher, since without this knowledge it is difficult to build this bridge. Obviously, when the main Impsources there are local specialist guides who can explain everything about the Impsources and provide background information, this should enhance the ImpCal intake of the tourists. However, there is a parallel tendency for specialist guides to become less necessary, because many details can be found on the Internet; when the tour leader knows a lot and can show beautiful birds, then the local guide may be left out. This may also be the case when the tour leader speaks the tourist’s language but the local guides do not. When there is a special interest group, then local specialists are of the utmost importance (orchid societies, groups of farmers, bird watchers, etc).
Another function of the bridge is that of translator. Originally this was the case but with modern group travel this point seems to be of growing importance, especially when one tries to promote a better understanding between tourists and locals. Translating concerns language and also making tourists aware of other cultures and customs. Many people think that the concepts of sustainability and increasing contact between locals and tourists should make the use of local guides for group travel obligatory (as in the case of Cuba), but one should not underestimate the language barrier: there are few Japanese-speaking Nigerians or Swedish-speaking South Africans.
Functioning as a bridge also means eliminating existing prejudices. The popular TV nature programmes and films may have eliminated old prejudices and fixed ideas, at the same time they are creating new ones. Tourists nowadays may get disappointed that there are no hippopotamuses in South America or that a local population is not exotic enough for their expectations. Indians wearing jeans? And using credit cards? As we saw under globalization effect number 5, there are these universal ideas that the tour leader has to refute diplomatically.
It is a tremendous advantage when tour leaders live in the country where they are working and when they are involved with the local society in one way or another and are able to transmit this to their tourists. With this, the tendency of the tour leader who has worked in 20 different countries (and is proud of it) has come to a halt. A tour leader who works at a single destination is preferred nowadays. There is another reason behind this: the relationship between the Local Agent and specifically the tour leader and local infrastructure is of great importance for obtaining the best possible service levels. Although a tour leader nowadays does not need to make the hotel reservations himself, he has to make sure that the tourists get the correct rooms and he may have to make bridges between receptionists or room maids and the tourists. It is important that the hotel personnel know the tour leader and have good rapport with him.
To be conscious of what is local and what is foreign from the country of origin of the tourist has become more important and in the last five years especially, the role of the local has increased considerably. The shift we are experiencing nowadays is a delicate one. Some tourists are affected by globalization trends; others are well into the sustainability debate, and some tourists may still feel like the exploring tourist of the seventies (see the TL-scale). The scale of tourist behaviour has widened, globalization has changed distances, while sustainability is trying to balance positive and negative impacts of the former. The tour leader today now finds himself in an ever more interesting position, whereby he or she has the tremendous responsibility of making the tourist realize that we have to manage our resources to the extent that the children of the tourists as well the local people can enjoy a similar or better quality of life than their own.
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All rights reserved. Complete or partial reproduction is prohibited without the permission of Marinus Gisolf and without mentioning the source
All rights reserved. Complete or partial reproduction is prohibited without the permission of Marinus Gisolf and without mentioning the source.