Tour Leader: Somewhere in the Middle, Somewhere within
Somewhere in the middle. Thatʼs usually the position of a tour leader during a tour. We sit on our own little tour leader island that is floating around the different countries connected to similar islands of agents, transportation companies, guides, hotels, local people and of course the travelers.
We travel with the group, but we are not part of the group. We are the face of the tour company, but hardly know them personally. We represent Khiri – the land operator, but we are not office staff. We often work with the same transportation companies and stay at the same hotels, but their representatives usually see us as clients. We work together with local guides, but in the end we make the decisions. We know the local people we meet along the way and sometimes even become friends with them, but we also remain customers. In short, we are involved with a lot of different parties – all with their own interests, and at the same time we are always a little on our own. But all tour leaders know this and we should understand our position (I do use the word should, because not everybody does).
The fun part is that we get to work with and meet so many people, often in different beautiful countries. The longer we work in a country or for a certain agent or company, the more familiar we get with their programs and way of working. Some call this boring, I call it routine. For me the combination of having some familiar places and faces during a tour and experiencing new things along the way is a very valuable one.
But being on your own little tour leader island surrounded by all other islands is not always easy. Especially not when things go wrong. It can be difficult to explain to travelers when a mistake is made by the company without revealing too many details. For the guests the tour leader is the face of the company and they donʼt care who caused a mistake. At that moment it is more important to acknowledge the problem and fix it as soon as possible. For me it is always good to know my agentʼs got my back in case guests get a bit unreasonable.
It sometimes occurs that updates or changes of program donʼt get communicated to travelers. Upon arrival it appears the program of the guests is different from the program the tour leader and agent have for example. It is then up to the tour leader to communicate this to the land operator who has to communicate this with the agent before getting back to the travelers. As the face of the agent at that moment I apologize on behalf of the agent and tell the travelers what we can do. I know that together with Khiri we can come up with a solution that I can communicate to the group as soon as things are final.
Another example is when a tour leader makes a mistake. At that moment I have to step up and admit it was my own mistake. Not the companyʼs mistake, my own. I will then try to fix it on my own if I can, but sometimes I canʼt and need help from Khiri. In this case itʼs good to know that even though I am on my own little island, Khiri and me are usually able to work things out in the interest of the travelers.
Both situations show that different parties depend on each other and need each otherʼs help. Therefor, a good relationship between tour leader and Khiri is crucial. For Khiri, tour leaders are the main link to the clients during the tour, and the other way around Khiri is the most important back up for the tour leader.
Travelers do not always realize that behind the scenes a whole team is working hard to make their tour possible, not just the person who travels along with them.
Things can get more complicated when more parties are involved, like hotels, transportation companies and guides. In general it takes a while to get to know and trust people, no matter in what part of the world youʼre living or what kind of field of work youʼre in. Working closely together like doing a tour together can be challenging. I’ve experienced that in this region it takes some time to earn somebodyʼs trust. Speaking in the right way or asking can help and prevents a lot of embarrassing and frustrating situations without causing people to lose face – important in in especially Thailand. Even though my blood is Asian, I am quite direct when it comes to working. It has become a second nature to prevent problems by being a direct westerner Asian style. Ruling out chances of miscommunication among drivers and guides for example. Itʼs all about how to ask something and taking a few u-turns to get the information that you need.
I donʼt want to give the impression that being a tour leader is a terrible job, because it is the opposite. But it is challenging at times. Sometimes I feel like a diplomat joggling to keep all balls in the air to find the right way to stay true to the different parties.
Iʼm involved with the countries that I travel in and to stay loyal to it’s people. After all, Iʼm still a guest here. I love my job so much. When you work more often in the same places, with the same people, you get to know them and they get to know you. Sometimes it takes a while and a few fits and conflicts along the way to appreciate a person to end up becoming real good friends.