Tour Guiding Research

This month we are publishing Tour Guiding Research by Betty Weiler and Rosemary Black. Although researchers have been studying the process of tour guiding for many years, this is the first academic book to bring the research together in one place. Betty and Rosemary tell us more…

Tour guides probably instinctively know that if they perform well their clients will leave happy and satisfied with their experience, yet rarely can we point to evidence to back up this gut feeling. Our forthcoming book called Tour Guiding Research presents a review of some 280 published papers covering visitor expectations, guide performance and visitor satisfaction as well as other common themes identified in the literature. These include the multiple and complex roles of tour guides, tour guides as communicators (mediators, interpreters, story-tellers, and intercultural communication brokers), the guide’s role in fostering environmental and cultural sustainability through messages and role-modelling, the contributions of guide training and professional development to improving guide performance, and mechanisms such as certification and professional associations for recognising and rewarding quality guiding practice.

At least 25 studies have looked at the influence of tour guide performance on visitor satisfaction. The first group of studies were conducted between 1980 and 1995 by English-speaking researchers investigating tours to Europe or the US with Western tour participants. A second group of studies carried out between 2001 and 2012 consist primarily of Chinese-speaking researchers examining tour guides of visitors mainly from China. All these studies indicate that tour guide performance has a positive effect on visitor satisfaction.

Many of these studies have identified specific tour guide attributes, qualities and skills that contribute to visitor satisfaction. Attributes highly regarded by visitors and that influence satisfaction include clear communication and knowledge of the destination, interpersonal skills, getting the group involved in activities and interactions with tour participants, interpretation (including presentation skills and commentary), and professionalism (for example, sense of responsibility, politeness, concern for the clients, organisation and empathy). Attributes and roles that are not always performed well by guides and where underperformance can lead to dissatisfaction include dealing with emergencies, honesty and ethical practices, guiding language, fostering a sense of humour, destination knowledge and friendliness.

While these findings should be viewed with some caution as many of the studies are culturally and context-specific, they do provide some general directions for tour guiding practice and have implications for the tourism industry and tour guiding practice:

  • Acknowledgement of the importance and centrality of the tour guide to the success of the tourism industry needs to be evident in what both the government and the industry say and do.
  • Trained and experienced guides result in higher levels of visitor satisfaction. Training and professional development need to be underpinned by good research, and rewarded with good working conditions and a career path to support long-term employees.
  • Government agencies need to establish and support an industry-driven quality performance scheme for guides that assesses, enhances and rewards guiding knowledge, attitudes and skills.
  • Training needs to include content on identifying and understanding the different expectations and cultural backgrounds of different cultural visitor groups.
  • Unethical tour guiding practices and behaviour can contribute to visitor dissatisfaction; these need to be addressed through reward systems for guides and with guide licensing, training and monitoring systems.
  • Tour guides need to be developed and nurtured as independent, critical thinkers with a desire for and commitment to on-going professional development and the capacity to be self-reflective.

This post was originally written for the Guiding Organisations Australia newsletter and the original article can be found here: http://www.goa.org.au/index.php/newsletters.

For more information about the book please see our website or contact one of the authors: betty.weiler@scu.edu.au / rblack@csu.edu.au.

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