(3 min read)
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Whenever I talk to guides or tour operators about Responsible Tourism, there seems to be a general understanding that you're either all in, or not at all.
Yet, something as simple as training your guides to educate travelers can be simple, incredibly impactful, and easily added to any tour.
A book I reference constantly is Sam H. Ham's Interpretation, Making a Difference on Purpose (a bit dense and costly but think of it as a reference book). In it, he discusses how interpretation (guiding) can lead to changing someone's beliefs, or even behaviors. Having the tools to influence guests gives guides the power to proactively protect their city from the negative impacts of travel. A great and important responsibility.
In this article, I'll outline the simple steps to influencing guests and how to incorporate it into your tours.
How Tour Guides Can Educate Guests
It's important to make the distinction between educating guests and preaching to them.
Coming on too strong, or making them feel bad about their travel behaviors will more likely result in them feeling defensive and less open to learning something new.
According to Sam H. Ham's 'Normative Approach to Influencing Behavior', in order to change a behavior, you first need to change a belief.
It's important to note that guides only have control over the First Step. After that, it's up to the guests to make the connections, and of course, not all of them will. But the importance is planting the seed.
The effect on the guide's outlook of their tours is also huge. The realization that they have the power to influence the behavior of the guests on their tour is huge. Every city has pet peeves about what they wish tourists wouldn't do. Tour guides are in the unique position to educate these same tourists and turn them into travelers that benefit their local community during their visit.
Here's how it works in practice...
Step 1- Create Understanding
A great technique to get travelers to understand the local's point of view is to stress what OTHER people normally do and how that bothers the locals (as opposed to pointing out what they specifically are doing wrong).
For example, New Yorkers hate when travelers stop in the middle of the sidewalk, blocking our foot traffic. So I might say something like;
"Let's all move to the side so I can explain what we're looking at so we don't block the sidewalk. The sidewalks in NYC are like roads! If you stop in the middle suddenly or block the way you can cause an accident, or, at the least, get in someone's way while they're trying to get to work."
It can be quick and seemingly spontaneous before you move on. The idea is to plant the seed.
Step 2- Understanding Leads to Appreciation
If you're successful, that understanding will lead to an appreciation. Meaning, your guests will hopefully think;
"Well, I definitely don't want to get in the way of locals"
Step 3- Appreciation Leads to Belief
That appreciation, and awareness, of something they weren't aware of before, can then lead to a belief;
"I don't think tourists should get in the way of locals"
Step 4- Belief Leads to Behavior
And of course, the final, most satisfying result of planting that small seed of awareness, a guest is actively conscious of standing off to the side of a sidewalk if they need to stop for any reason. The behavior now coming naturally.
What if My Guests Don't Care
There is a misconception that to run Responsible Tours that benefit your local community and economy, you need to heavily advertise that. And I often hear the complaint that their customers don't see that as a draw.
Here's the thing, your customers probably DON'T care.
It doesn't need to be something you advertise heavily and you don't need to change your current customer market. Responsible Tourism can simply be embedded in your values, in how you run your tours. Guests either will not notice (although, a guide subtly modeling Responsible behaviors, such as drinking from a reusable water bottle goes a long way) OR, it will be a pleasant bonus.
No one wants to be the 'annoying tourist', and most guests secretly yearn to not stick out (even if they don't realize it). At the very least, it can give them the confidence to navigate your city comfortably, while unknowingly making your city a better place.