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The customer is not always right.
In fact, in my experience, they’re often dead wrong.
So often we get angry with travelers behaving badly, and yet, I wonder if someone simply pointed that out to them, they would behave better.
After all, what is considered ‘acceptable’ behavior varies drastically depending on the culture, so is it perhaps unrealistic of us to expect all travelers to take the time and energy to observe and mimic the locals?
The good news is that guides are in the perfect position to educate travelers on ‘what not to do’. However with our customer service tendencies, we are often so afraid of insulting guests or losing that tip that we’re more likely to smile and nod rather than call them out on any undesirable behavior.
In this article, I’ll offer a few suggestions on how to gain the confidence to correct your guests as needed (which your fellow locals will thank you for!).
Reframe the question.
If you don’t like the question your guests have asked, feel free to reframe it.
For example, let’s say your guest has asked you if you are married, which you might be uncomfortable answering. You could reframe the question by saying; “In our culture we don't talk about personal things like that at work, but I can tell you that most people nowadays get married in their late 20s).
Tell them WHY something they’re doing is inappropriate.
In NYC, where locals are famous for always being in a hurry, tourists are known for 'getting in the way'. It's one of the main reasons why locals loathe to go to Times Square, too many tourists walking slowly and stopping in the middle of the sidewalk.
This was something very easy for me to address on any walking tour;
“Now, we’re going to be going at a slower pace than the locals on this tour, so let’s just stay to the right so that others can pass us. And if someone pushes by, remember, while you’re here on vacation, which is great, they are probably running late for work, or just trying to get home after a long day.”
Understand your audience.
The majority of people who sign up for a tour do so to learn something. So they’re usually very open to being educated.
Of course those guests who are only on the tour because their family is, or the ones that love they need to show off how much they know. By getting to know your guests (talking to them during check-in and between stops), you can get an idea of who is open to being corrected, and who is not. So that when the time comes, you can easily make a call as to how to best address something.
Embrace your role as local ambassador.
Don’t forget that YOU are the local expert in this scenario. Make it easier for travelers to blend in by educating your guests on local customs that they can utilize throughout their visit. For example, an Italian guide might explain to American tourists that in a local coffee shop, you often must pay first, then bring your receipt to the person at the bar.
On a tour, that is simply an interesting cultural fact. However it has a huge impact in preventing the guests on your tour from getting in the way of locals later during their trip by being able to correctly order their coffee. Small, but if you've ever had to wait for your coffee because a tourist was incorrectly ordering theirs, it makes a big difference.
For some extra reading on changing your guest’s opinions see How to Be Political on a Tour and Changing the Perspectives of Your Guests.