(3 minute read)
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Free-lance tour guides are often at the bottom of the priority list for both small and large operators. Mainly due to high turnover and the fact that they’re viewed as contractors, as opposed to company employees.
Practically speaking, tour guides are the ones you hire, train, and then send off to take care of the day-to-day so that you (the Manager, the Entrepreneur, the C-Suite) can spend your time strategizing more long-term and large-scale.
At Urban Adventures I was tasked with making sure our team of 1000+ free-lance tour guides were giving tours of excellent quality consistent with our brand. I realized that to do this, we had to get guides to love our brand. To do that, we had to look at what we were offering them of value that they wouldn’t get elsewhere.
It’s important to remember that tour guides are often the only employees that your customer interacts with, and so, often become THE representation of your entire brand. Shouldn’t that then make them top priority?
I’m proposing that, by focusing on giving value to tour guides, you can increase performance results, innovation, and customer satisfaction/retention (not to mention, decrease costly employee turnover). This fits into the larger theory of the triple bottom line framework for a business’s long-term success (profit, people & planet).
In this article, I’ll expand upon why you need to offer value to your tour guides and offer 3 steps to determine what that value is (spoiler- I’m not only talking about paying them more than your competitor, as that’s not always an option).
Why you need to offer value to your Tour Guides
If you think about it, your tour guides are the ones who actually know what’s going on. They see how the customers react in real-time, what the product is like on the ground, and what the realities are compared to what’s advertised.
Very often, new business elements are implemented (tech, procedures, product, etc) without any input from the people who will be the most affected by them or who have the most insight into potential success.
Not to mention, being a Customer-Facing Employee is hard. A lot is out of your control. You often have no input into your goals and measures, however, the results still ride on you. And honestly, you might not remember how hard it was if you’ve spent more than a few years in a Management role.
During the five-years I spend as Guide Success Manager overseeing over 160+ teams of local, free-lance tour guides, I maintained my NYC tour guide license and hopped on a tour whenever I had the opportunity.
It kept me grounded, let me test out the techniques I was teaching, allowed me to experience what it was like to report to a remote manager, and reminded me how incredibly demanding being a tour-guide is (my 9-5 is a piece of cake compared to a 3-hour walking tour, believe me).
3 Steps to Determine ‘What is Valuable’ to your Tour Guides.
Step 1: List out all the possible ways you currently offer value.
This shouldn’t be limited to “pay more than your competitors”. That might not be a reality (and if it is, there’s way more value you can be giving beyond that). What’s ‘valuable’ spans an incredible amount of areas, many of which you might already be doing, especially when you compare to more typical companies outside of travel.
Below I’ll divide some obvious (and some less obvious) ways you can give guides value* into three sections; Stability & Comfort, Work Environment, Career Development to give you a kickstart on brainstorming.
*Note- this is a general list and so, some might conflict. Not all companies will be able to give ALL of the below value mentioned.
Stability & Comfort
Step 2: Bring this list to guides and ask what is ACTUALLY valuable.
After you’ve brainstormed the list of value you already give (including a few new things you could add), share it with employees. What YOU find valuable, might not be so valuable in reality. This only works if it’s a two-way conversation.
Bonus- how empowering would it be for guides to be involved in this process. Nothing shows ‘Upper Management’ cares more than asking the opinion of tour guides.
Make sure to get opinions from all different people within your team and be aware of any Majority Culture bias to avoid excluding any minority employees.
Step 3: Define & expand upon that value (aka ‘show you really mean it’).
Once everyone has participated in shaping the values that you offer guides, advertise it internally. This adds ‘value to the value’ meaning, you can get credit for something that is taken for granted (e.g. let employees know that paying hourly for any extra work such as sending tour images to your marketing team or writing a blog post is something you prioritize as a company because you respect their time)
Furthermore, expand upon values where you can.
Let’s say you discover that ‘community’* is important to your guides. Where does the community already exist? Is it happening organically and, if it is, how can you expand upon it.
The idea is that this should take effort. It’ll show to your guides and they’ll be more willing to put that effort back in. It’s a win-win.
For further reading on how to identify and grow organic community at work I highly recommend the book Great Mondays which has an entire section and workshop dedicated to the topic.