Adventure Travel Guide Qualifications & Performance Standard – IV. Adventure Travel Guiding Core Competencies

IV. Adventure Travel Guiding Core Competencies Adventure Travel is an extremely diverse industry. Diverse in terms of geography, with adventure travel businesses located all around the world, and diverse in terms of activities, with a constantly evolving list of new activities and products for adventure travel guides to introduce to guests. This diversity has resulted in a multitude of approaches to measuring adventure travel guide performance as well as numerous approaches for incorporating standards into training schemes. Government involvement, through laws and regulations, also impacts the enactment of standards. Despite this diversity, universal qualifications have emerged for Adventure Travel Guides, regardless of the activity or destination. The following five competencies have been determined essential for adventure travel guides regardless of geography or activities:

  1. Technical competency
  2. Wilderness medicine and first aid
  3. Customer service and group management skills
  4. Natural & cultural history interpretation (content delivery)
  5. Sustainability

The following pages describe and provide examples to illustrate each of these core competencies. These competencies align with and expand on ISO 21101 and TR 21102 which defines the role of an adventure travel guide as follows: “The role of the leader, regardless of the adventure tourism activity being undertaken, usually includes:

  1. Participant assistance
  2. Safety management and care of participants and the leadership team in accordance with the operator’s safety management system, including provision of appropriate information, instruction, supervision and training;
  3. Application of emergency procedures
  4. Information sharing”

1. TECHNICAL COMPETENCY Where standards and protocol currently exist for adventure travel guides, most pertain to sport-specific skills, such as white water rafting, rock climbing, or mountaineering, for example. Numerous certifications and certifying bodies exist, as do training resources for many activities. The technical skills portion of the Adventure Travel Guide Qualification and Performance Standard is directed to the technical skills and abilities guides must possess regardless of what activity they are leading. ISO 21101 has been referenced for alignment.

  1. Guides must possess technical ability, including current, available sport-specific certifications, to safely carry out activities offered in the commercial trip.
    1. For example, in cases where an activity is regulated by a local or national governing body, all rules should be observed.
      1. Example: the British Canoe Union (BCU)5 certifications would be required throughout the UK for canoe and kayak guides.
      2. Example: the International Rafting Federation (IRF)6 provides certifications for white water rafting in different crafts
    2. When no certification is required/ available, activity protocol should be determined and documented.
      1. Example: Coast walking provider uses existing protocol for hiking or hill walking.
      2. Protocol should incorporate relevant existing standards
        1. Example: snowshoe hiking incorporates avalanche protocol
    3. Some technical skills apply regardless of geography and activity and should always be present:
      1. Orientation and navigation
      2. Managing emergency situations, risks, and hazards
  2. Guides must observe relevant safety protocols specific to the company, location, and activities
    1. Safety protocols include, but are not limited to:
      1. Emergency response
      2. Required certifications
      3. Duty to act (administering care to participants)
      4. Guide to guest ratio
      5. Appropriate operating procedures and risk assessments
    2. Guides should adhere to the protocol or standard that is more strict or specific to the activity or location.
      1. Example: The Company may have a guide to guest ratio of 1:15, however, United States Forest Service Wilderness regulations7 allow for a maximum of 12 heartbeats. This stricter regulation supersedes the company protocol.
  3. Guides should have received current training and licenses (if applicable) specific to equipment and vehicles used.
    1. Certifications and licenses may be determined by local laws, industry standards, or company protocol.

2. WILDERNESS MEDICINE AND FIRST AID The often remote nature of adventure travel trips, combined with the presence of various degrees of physical activity, means the likelihood is high that an adventure travel guide will need to respond to some form of a medical emergency at various times throughout his / her career.

  1. Guides should possess a medical certification based on recognized protocol for the amount of time to reach definitive care.
    1. Examples include: Standard First Aid & CPR, Wilderness First Aid & CPR, Wilderness First Responder, and Wilderness EMT
      1. The exact training requirement will vary by region and activity.
  2. Accepted protocol comes from the Wilderness Medical Society8 and the International Red Cross
    1. Other standards exist but must align with these protocols.

3. CUSTOMER SERVICE & GROUP MANAGEMENT SKILLS A greater focus on customer service differentiates Adventure Travel Guides from Adventure Educators and Adventure Recreation providers. Customer service techniques for an adventure travel guide balance service with a safety protocol required for adventure activities and / or remote locations. Additionally, a guide is responsible for relationship management with both guests and local people and must be able to communicate in the relevant local language(s), and be capable of intercultural communication and interpersonal skills.

  1. Guides should be trained with an emphasis on customer service
    1. Specific standards depend on company protocol but generally include the following:
      1. Guide shows interest in ideas, views and principles of participants and others concerned, in a respectful and tolerant manner.
      2. During the tour and execution of the itinerary the guide takes into account varying ability levels, physical limitations, and expectations of the group, and assesses them in relation to the possibilities within the itinerary and monitors their safety and the possibilities within the itinerary and monitors their safety and wellbeing.
      3. Guide must be able to identify complaints and handle conflicts, either in a solving, mediating or compromising way. Provides aftercare and creates opportunities for feedback.
      4. Guide establishes contacts and maintains relationships with local parties as tour guides, drivers, and suppliers. During problems such as disputes or conflicts of interest the guide acts as an intermediary and works towards achieving a solution that is acceptable for all concerned.
      5. In case of illness, accidents or other calamities the guide must be able to deal with the situation and act as trained for, according to general procedures, safety regulations and company instructions.
  2. Additional customer service considerations exist for adventure travel guides:
    1. Monitoring the health and well being of the guest or participant
      1. Hydration and food
      2. Body temperature and overall comfort
      3. Mood and spirit
    2. Managing for varying ability levels
    3. Understanding participant expectations for the experience
    4. Group management / dynamics
  3. Guides require strong abilities in verbal and non-verbal communication
    1. Communication includes the ability to give clear direction and is an integral component to conducting a safe activity
    2. Expectations for experience should be clearly communicated with guests at the onset
      1. Questioning techniques should be employed to ascertain specific expectations of guests.
      2. Guides should strive to exceed guests’ expectations – both physical and emotional.
      3. Guides should strive for omniscience, or reading what the guest wants prior to being told.

4. NATURAL & CULTURAL HISTORY INTERPRETATION (CONTENT DELIVERY) An Adventure Travel guide is expected to be an expert in subject matter presented on outings or tours including, but not limited to, natural history, current events, and cultural heritage. Knowing facts and statistics is not enough; the ability to communicate effectively must also be present. Guides should look to develop both knowledge and skill in communicating to cover a potentially wide variety of contexts for both the culture and place, as well as the interests of the audience. Content delivery techniques should be applied in both formal educational settings as well as in informal communications such as during meals and casual conversation. Guides share content in a manner that is approachable and digestible for guests and guests. This technique is called “interpretation” or “thematic interpretation”.

  1. Guides should be knowledgeable about local history and cultures and present accurate information
    1. Guides should understand the local culture/s of the regions in which they operate.
      1. Efforts should be made to incorporate local people in authentic and respectful ways.
      2. It is the guide’s responsibility to ensure that guests are informed of, and follow, respectful practices when interacting with local communities.
      3. Appropriate language should be used when interacting with and referring to local communities.
    2. Guides should be knowledgeable and aware of local history and current events and be prepared to present this information in an unbiased manner.
  2. Guides should be knowledgeable about natural history in the environments that they visit
    1. Basic flora and fauna, ecosystems, and general ecology are important for all guides at a minimum.
    2. Knowledge level should increase depending on the specializations declared by company and guides.
  3. Educational techniques should be used to share this information in an engaging manner with guests
    1. Delivery should be provocative, engaging, and inspiring.
    2. Content must be relevant to the audience
      1. Effort should be made to learn interests, objectives, and knowledge level of participants, and to match content to these interests
      2. Guide is responsible to ensure that the information presented is being understood by participants
  4. Content should be organized in a thematic manner
    1. Should have a clear “Topic” and “Theme” in which the majority of material presented fits under
    2. The purpose, how it fits into the overarching story, should be clear to the audience.

5. SUSTAINABILITY A core value of the Adventure Travel sector is a focus on Sustainability, including environmental and social sustainability. How guides interact with local partners, and share local cultures and history is central to ensuring the positive impact adventure travel can have in communities is realized and to the delivery of an excellent guest experience. Guides operate sustainably by minimizing environmental impacts and modeling sustainable practices to clients / guests. Principles of Low Impact Adventure Travel Guiding include:

  1. Guides should be trained in the principles and application of Leave No Trace, appropriate to the location
    1. As determined by The Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics9
      1. Plan Ahead and Prepare:
      2. Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces (USA, Canada, Australia) OR Travel and Camp on Durable Ground (Ireland, New Zealand, UK)
      3. Dispose of Waste Properly
      4. Leave What You Find
      5. Minimize Campfire Impacts
      6. Respect Wildlife (USA, Canada, Australia) OR Respect Farm Animals & Wildlife (New Zealand, Ireland, UK)
      7. Be Considerate of Other Visitors(USA, Canada) OR Be Considerate of Your Hosts & Other Visitors (Australia) OR Be Considerate of Others (Ireland, New Zealand, UK)
    2. Training should be geographically appropriate to the location in which the guide is leading
    3. Emphasis on this application of principals should include efforts to stop poaching and trading of illegal wildlife products
  2. Additional principals exist, and should be adhered to, as designated “Beyond Leave No Trace” by Simon and Alagona (2009)10:
    1. Educate yourself and others about the places you visit
    2. Purchase only the equipment and clothing you need
    3. Take care of the equipment and clothing you have
    4. Make conscientious food, equipment, and clothing consumption choices
    5. Minimize waste production
    6. Reduce energy consumption
    7. Get involved by conserving and restoring the places you visit
  3. Guides should be aware of and adhere to the following principles outlined by The International Ecotourism Society11:
    1. Minimize physical, social, behavioral, and psychological impacts.
    2. Build environmental and cultural awareness and respect.
    3. Provide positive experiences for both visitors and hosts.
    4. Provide direct financial benefits for conservation.
    5. Deliver memorable interpretative experiences to visitors that help raise sensitivity to host countries’ political, environmental, and social climates.
    6. Recognize the rights and spiritual beliefs of the Indigenous People in your community and work in partnership with them to create empowerment.
  4. Guides should be aware of and adhere to the following principles outlined by The Adventure Travel Trade Association’s “Values Statement”12 including:
    1. Maximizing social and economic benefits to the local community and minimizing negative impacts
    2. Maximizing benefits to cultural heritage and minimizing negative impacts
    3. Maximizing benefits to the environment and minimizing negative impacts
    4. Protection of children from harmful effects of tourism as represented by the organization: 13
  5. Gender and child protection An Adventure Travel Guide has a responsibility to be aware of illegal and unethical activity in the areas that he / she is guiding in, and to ensure that vendors and partners are not engaging in such acts. This includes child and human trafficking, illegal prostitution, and uncompensated / under-compensated labor.

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