Recently I was lucky to interview a highly experienced tour guide from Iceland. Here is our conversation:
What sort of employment background did you have before becoming a Tour Guide?
I was a student
Do you think it’s important to have good customer service skills beforehand or can these be learned on the job?
They can be learned on the job. I was due to shadow a guide but she didn’t turn up, so I was thrown in at the deep end!
What did you like best about the job?
Getting to know my country and new people
How many tours did you run?
I lost count; I did it for over 30 years
Which was your favourite destination?
All of them
Did you have any ‘near miss’ or dangerous encounters?
I had a group of 40 people when a flood collapsed a bridge. The driver took the group on an extra excursion while I found accommodation. He slept on the back seat of his bus as there was no room for him. We took from 08.00am till midnight to get back to Reykjavik in time for their flight
What are you most proud of in your tour guide career?
Not talking non-stop like some guides do! Helping people, smiling, being polite but firm, and sharing my country with others
What was the biggest lesson you learned?
To be optimistic; to serve and help, and to think before talking
Do you think being with you on tour made a difference to the customers’ or the local people’s lives? And if so, and anyone were to ask you what difference you made to others’ lives, what would you say?
I think my friendliness and optimism made a difference
Which was the most challenging part of your country to work in? Why?
None in my country. Denmark, Germany, Holland, England: all challenging for different reasons
What did you personally get out of doing the job?
Experience and learning adaptability
Do you think knowing local and other languages makes a big difference to the way you can do the job?
Yes. Having the local language is very important
How much support did you get from your employers? Did they give you a detailed tour manual with contacts, advice, recommendations by previous guides?
I had a skeleton plan for each tour; I wasn’t spoon fed
Did you work with regional guides or were you pretty much on your own? If so, were they easy to work with?
Yes, and yes
Have you ever been a driver/guide?
Did you need special skills like knowing about vehicle mechanics, how to do basic repairs and so on?
No I didn’t
Did you get adequate training from your employer before going on tour? If not, how do you think they could have done it better?
No. But a year later I attended a tour guide course run by the State Tourist Bureau. My first teacher was elected President of Iceland years later!
Did you ‘shadow’ another guide as part of your training?
Did you know what to expect when you started working?
Did you know much about people from other cultures before you started? And what did you learn about them?
A little, from school, and from movies
Did you get adequately paid or did you have to rely on tips? Were all your personal expenses covered?
The salary was low at first, from 1963 to 1972. Then a Tour Guide Federation was set up to protect guides from exploitation. They are still fighting for better conditions
How much tour documentation did you have to do? Did you have to post a report after every tour?
Not much: just sign for the bus, meals and hotels
Were you aware of all your responsibilities before you started? Would you still have done the job if you had known?
No, I had no idea!
What advice would you give to someone just starting out?
Be patient and listen with open ears. Don’t forget to smile!
Did you already have leadership skills or did you learn these the hard way?
No I didn’t, but I was natural and had good organisation skills
How regularly did you have to communicate with your employer? How did you do that – phone, or written?
How did you get the job? Did you have to apply then have an interview? Or did you get the job through personal contacts?
Personal contact: a friend owned the company
And the best part is: I am going there in March!! (and really exctied abou it)