Chapter 4 Client and escort psychology.
After reading this chapter, you should be able to:
* Discuss strategies for managing group behavior.
* Explain why and how a tour leader can be culturally sensitive.
Apply tactics for smooth interaction with flight attendants, motorcoach drivers, and step-on guides.
Identify strategies for preventing escort burnout.
Special Exercise: Go directly to Activity 2 at the end of this chapter, and answer the twelve questions in the pretest. You'll complete the remainder of the activity later.
For the very first tour I conducted," explains Leo Lucas of Lucas Travel Management Associates, "I did massive research on the area I was to comment on, the Grand Canyon. I was prepared--or so I thought. What I wasn't ready for was the fact that the group seemed more concerned about golf stores, souvenirs, the safety of luggage, and seat rotation--I had a near riot over that--than about what I had to say about the Grand Canyon. Tour groups can behave quite strangely."
Managing Group Behavior
What Leo Lucas experienced is very familiar to anyone who has taken or conducted a tour. Powerful psychological forces shape group behavior. Understanding these curious but usually predictable forces can enable a tour manager to turn them to his or her advantage. Here are the three patterns you will probably encounter.
Tour participants bring with them high expectations. To purchase a tour is a decision of great consequence in the average person's life. Only buying a house or a car is more expensive. The dollars spent and the decisions made lead vacationers to expect a good time and a clear value.
Brochure descriptions, media ads, and their friends' positive experiences all serve to increase expectations. If the client has been on a previous tour, he or she will expect this trip, and your performance, to be as good as or better than what they experienced before. Passengers dream that every meal on the tour will be perfect, every flight on time, and every hotel an ideal home-away-from-home. This will be true even on a budget tour. The one exception--an adventure tour, where clients generally have more realistic expectations.
And what do tour members expect their tour manager to be? Why, a supremely knowledgeable, infinitely talented miracle worker, of course!
The Flock Factor
Tour participants quickly adapt to group thinking as they seek cues to "correct" behavior from those around them. Peer pressure becomes a very real factor. There's a desire to conform, even among those tour members who are mature and set in their ways. One amusing side effect can be a sort of herd instinct or "flock factor." If a tour manager leads a group into a building through a single door, all group members will probably try to pass through that one door, even if a dozen other entrances are available. Groups will dutifully follow a tour conductor across the street, even if the traffic signal has turned red. One tour director reports being followed into a men's room by an entire group, including its female members.
Apart from such odd phenomena, group cohesiveness carries significant advantages. Dominated by congenial individuals and a sensitive tour conductor, a group quickly takes on the kind of easy-going attitude that will help make the tour pleasant and successful. Because they see others doing it, clients will try an activity, a balloon ride, for example, that they would never do on their own.
A tour manager should encourage the "bonding" process by introducing passengers to one another (especially at a get-acquainted party, if scheduled), reserving large tables at restaurants so clients can interact, setting up a group photo, and using every other possible opportunity to break down the anonymity and transform forty strangers into a cohesive, cooperating family.
On the other hand, the flock factor and peer influence can lead to counterproductive behavior. A few disgruntled clients can quickly sour an entire tour. In a crisis, group conduct can even become dangerous. Through example and subtle management, a tour leader must reroute unsuitable behavior to more positive directions.
The Regression Syndrome
Tour directors often find it puzzling that mature adults on a tour can occasionally be cranky, argue over seating, compete for attention, be overly picky about food, take naps at almost any moment, and have tantrums. This juvenile behavior, however, can be expected. To free themselves of hassles and responsibilities, these adults have placed themselves in a situation where someone else, the tour manager, makes all the decisions for them: when to eat, sleep, and even go to the bathroom. It may be the first time since childhood that they've given up so much control to someone else.
It shouldn't come as a surprise, then, that touring adults could regress to childlike or childish behavior and expect their tour director to become a surrogate parent, an authority figure who takes charge in a sensitive, fair, and firm manner. The group may be composed of senior citizens and the tour manager may be eighteen years old, but it doesn't matter. The tour conductor will still be both father and mother to forty adoring but occasionally unruly "kids."
Strategies for Managing a Tour Group
After reading about how clients dream, flock, and regress, you may wonder how a tour manager could possibly reshape such behavior into more sensitive and productive forms. Actually, the group-managing strategies required of a tour director aren't difficult to learn. They are subtle, however, since the context is so unexpected. (Tell a veteran tour conductor that he or she is a parent figure, and the first reaction will probably be one of amusement--until the similarities become stunningly obvious.) Good tour-managing tactics parallel good parenting tactics. They're solid adult leadership techniques as well.
A Tour Manager Must Be Fair
From birth, we all crave attention. As adults, we continue to enjoy the attention of others and to be disturbed by its absence. A tour director must parcel out attention equally to all tour members. Playing favorites leads to jealousies and "sibling rivalries" within the tour group family.
A tour leader who always sits with the same clients at group dinners, for example, will soon alienate others on the tour. Spread yourself around over the course of a tour or eat with the driver, not tour members.
Some tour managers, hoping to get a little free time, leave the group when a step-on guide takes over. Again, this sometimes provokes resentment. The group sees it as an unfair and uncaring act for a tour director to abandon his or her charges to an unfamiliar "babysitter." A tour conductor should remain with a group that is being led temporarily by someone else. If you must leave, then explain the reason clearly to your clients.
At the end of a motorcoach tour, don't drop off clients near their houses just because they live along the route to the tour's final destination. Others, expecting you to be consistent, will start asking for the same service. Soon you'll be making a dozen extra stops, and those who haven't asked for this favor will be steaming.
If you discover that it's someone's birthday or anniversary, a cake and a round of song are thoughtful gestures. Just don't overlook someone else's birthday that falls during the tour.
Be sure to apply the seat rotation system described in Chapter 3 with great care. Nothing upsets tour members more than inequitable seating assignments. The issue can easily turn into the tour equivalent of deciding which child gets stuck in the back seat of the car.
A Tour Manager Must Praise a Tour Group's Behavior
Kenneth Blanchard and Spencer Johnson, in their best-selling The One Minute Manager, argue that "to help people reach their full potential, catch them doing something right." So, too, must you acknowledge, praise, and reward appropriate client behavior in order for a tour to reach its full potential for success.
The most obvious quality to be praised is punctuality. A tour runs on finely tuned gears. If a few tour members are repeatedly late, those gears will start to grind badly.
One way tour conductors sometimes discourage tardiness is by embarrassing latecomers (for example, having the group "boo" them when they arrive on the motorcoach late or forcing them to contribute a dime to a "demerit" box). A more gentle, effective, and adult tactic is to warmly thank a group the first time all its members are punctual (which is often the first or second announced departure). A pattern will be set, useful habits will be reinforced, and peer-group pressure will discourage those who otherwise might be habitually behind schedule. Even more effective is to add unscheduled stops or small tour attractions for groups who are regularly on time and make it clear that their punctuality made these extras possible.
A Tour Manager Must Exceed the Client's Expectations
Adding "surprise stops" to a tour not only rewards a group for punctuality, but also serves as a "value-added" bonus. Such extras are a fine way to satisfy and even surpass a tour group's lofty expectations. Tour planners hold back a few minor tour components from their brochure prose and then encourage their company's tour directors to add these surprises. In other instances, it's the tour conductor who finds ways to exceed what the client expects.
For example, one tour manager who conducted the "Canadian Classic" itinerary described in Chapter 3 regularly surprised passengers with:
* a stop at a Quebec farmhouse to sample fresh-baked bread and maple butter;
* a visit to the Welland Canal Locks to watch a ship pass through;
* Montreal postcards provided free by that city's Convention and Visitors Bureau;
* thank-you notes from the escort, which he slid under clients' hotel room doors on the tour's last night.
His most impressive "miracle working" feat was to have Niagara Falls light up at 9:30 P.M. with the precise colors that the clients had chosen earlier in the day. He was able to do this because he knew the worker who operated the lights on the Falls!
A Tour Manager Must Be Firm When Facing Disruptive Behavior
Chronic Complainers. Experience once prompted a veteran tour conductor to propose a one-out-of-three theory: out of every three tours conducted, at least one will have a passenger whose purpose seems to be to make life difficult for the tour leader. Chronic complainers do exist. They travel around the world in a bad mood, seemingly bent on finding everything that's wrong with a vacation rather than concentrating on all that's right. What makes them that way? Perhaps a recent problem has created their ill feelings, and the tour manager must suffer the consequences. Even more vexing are the complaints that stem from a deep-rooted, misguided need for attention. The complainer has discovered that the squeaky wheel gets the oil.
On a tour, the cause of complaining is often an individual's inability to submerge personal needs to those of the group. There are people who are ill-suited for the tour experience. Individualistic and strong willed, they become deeply irritated by tour regimentation and sometimes take it out on those around them.
As a tour manager, what should you do about a complainer? First, consider whether the criticism is justified. If it is, then solve the problem or at least explain that you are working on it. If the complaint isn't reasonable, then you may still have to respond--up to a point. What is that point? Lynette Hinings-Marshall, who has conducted tour management training programs, argues for a "rule-of-three" strategy: the first time a client complains, it may be justified; the second time may be a warning signal; the third time probably indicates the problem is in the person, not in the tour.
What should you do with a chronic complainer? You must draw the line, and quickly. You will have to be diplomatic but firm, explaining in a private and discreet moment that you have done all you can and that the person will just have to accept the way things are. Some people, after all, want to be told no.
You might choose to ignore the complaints, but this often leads to even worse predicaments. The hidden purpose of the complainer may be to get attention, not to have the problem solved. Ignoring the complaint may cause the complainer to escalate his or her efforts to get attention. Disgruntled feelings often spread through a group like an infection.
Above all, realize that unjustified complaints may come from recent misfortunes or deep-seated neuroses. A little compassion, rather than irritation or resentment, will provide a good defense against this very vexing dilemma. At the same time, don't let a chronic complainer monopolize your attention or color your perception of the group. Concentrate instead on the 99 percent of tour members who are easy to be with.
Chronic complainers, however, aren't the only clients who require a tour manager to be firm yet understanding.
The Chronically Late. Never cater to individuals who are repeatedly tardy. Otherwise the whole group will resent the fact that their tour's smooth structure is crumbling before them. Clients who are always tardy must be given an ultimatum: Be on time or we will leave you and you will have to find your own way to the next destination. This essential rule can often be expressed to the entire group in a humorous way: "Please return from your highway rest stop by noon. If you return at 12:30 and the motorcoach isn't here, don't worry. We have another tour going through here next week at the same time and they'll be glad to pick you up...." Your point has been made.
But what if someone who is chronically late continues to be tardy? Then you may have to make good on your promise. After waiting twenty minutes or so (if you work for a tour operator, there may be an official time limit), have your on-time group members note the precise time (so the tardy clients cannot claim that your watch was fast) and leave.
Know-It-Alls. This will happen to you: You'll be giving a tour and suddenly a passenger will amend, add to, or outright contradict what you have said.
There are people who pride themselves on their knowledge and are genuinely informed. They offer you an opportunity to learn. Know-it-alls, on the other hand, think they are better informed than you, even though they probably aren't. Your instinct will be to get into a debate with them. Avoid the temptation. Pretend to be interested, be patient, and realize that the other clients on the tour will soon begin admiring your composure.
Bores. Some people are starved for attention. Their way of getting it is to talk incessantly to anyone too polite to escape their verbal grasp. This can be quite disruptive for a tour conductor. It's your job to listen to passengers, but you also need to spread your attention around. You often have more pressing things to attend to than listening to this one person. You'll have to give some attention to the person, but find excuses to eventually get away. (You may even tell them that you must spread your attention around, even though you "enjoy" talking to them. This usually works.)
Bores and know-it-alls are an annoyance. Chronic complainers can become extremely irritating. But those rare clients who drink too much alcohol, who seem to be on drugs, or who may be stealing things cause problems that may severely disrupt a tour. As a last resort, you must invoke the clause almost all tour companies print in their brochures: "The company reserves the right to terminate the tour of any person who is objectionable to other passengers or who disrupts the operation of a tour."
To drop someone from a tour is a serious matter, since it exposes you and the tour operator to a possible lawsuit, but it may be necessary. Document the client's actions carefully on paper, and get the names and addresses of witnesses to the client's behavior.
A Tour Manager Must Encourage Client "Adulthood"
Many of the behaviors we have reviewed--chronic tardiness, jealousy, a need for attention--have their roots in childhood and have solutions that parallel wise parenting. But tour directors mustn't fall into thinking of clients solely as children. They must use reasonable group-management strategies that encourage an adult client's right to make his or her own decisions within a tour's rules and regulations.
Several tactics work to encourage the "adulthood" of tour members. They also tend to counter-balance (but not subvert) the flock factor by reinforcing identity and independence.
* Use clients' names when speaking to them. Relate to them as individuals.
* "Interview" each client, if possible, on the tour's first day.
* Give them lists of your recommendations for places to eat and things to do during their spare time. This will encourage them to get out and explore.
* Find out from each client what interests them and then suggest ways they might pursue their interest during the tour's free time. You might tell an art lover, for instance, about a particularly good museum in the city where the tour is staying. Someone who likes Mexican food would be interested in knowing about the best Mexican restaurant in town.
A Tour Manager Must Exercise Leadership
Consider the terms used in the touring profession. Tour escort implies a sensitive, service-oriented job, one in which the escort becomes the helping companion to a group of travelers. The terms tour manager, tour leader, tour conductor, and tour director all imply control.
Escorts, though they're members of a service industry, shouldn't be reluctant to exercise their authority. Their groups expect them to. On the other hand, that authority must be restrained; over-control is not the answer. An escort is neither an overbearing dictator nor a meek servant but a leader who is ever-mindful of the needs of tour participants.
Tour conductors lead by example. They strive to make a strong first impression through good eye-contact, a warm smile, and perhaps a welcoming handshake. They're not just on time, but are early for everything. They explain a day's schedule and stick to it. They're cordial in all situations and calm when necessary. They dress professionally whenever on duty. In short, they're role models for their group's behavior.
Tour managers quickly figure out the responsibilities of their leadership role and what happens when they fail to accept these responsibilities. "I was on a tour of Germany. We were scheduled to see two castles, yet we were very behind time," remembers Dr. Sue Cooper, a practicing psychologist who has a special interest in tour escort behavior. "It was clear there was no time for both castles, only one. The tour leader took a vote as to which one to see. Bad idea. By that action, he gave up his power, upset those who wanted to see the castle that 'lost,' and forfeited the entire group's respect." What should he have done? "He could have made a professional decision himself and framed his decision in a positive light by explaining why he chose the castle he did and why that decision was in the best interest of the group. Sure, some people would still be disappointed. But if you're not ready to occasionally be the 'heavy' as an escort, then you shouldn't be out there escorting."
A Tour Manager Must Be Flexible
Flexibility is a key word when it comes to managing group behavior. Tour leaders who treat each group exactly the same way, ignore the subtleties of client feedback, and fail to adjust to each group and situation soon find that their strategies are strangely out of kilter.
Flexibility is especially important when a tour conductor is assigned to an untraditional touring group. For example, tour directors for charter, affinity, student, or incentive tours need to do very little to mold their group into a cohesive, cooperative unit. Tour participants already know one another or at least have common interests. Many tour directors report that such groups are among the easiest to manage. Clients on these tours show enthusiasm for their trip much earlier than clients on a public, "per capita" tour. They're also much less likely to squabble over seats or demand constant attention.
On the other hand, a tour manager will find exerting leadership over such groups a delicate business. For one thing, the group may already have a leader. A student tour, for instance, will have a teacher; an adventure tour of scuba divers, its diving instructor; an incentive group, its corporate officers; a group of Shriners, its potentate; a religious group, its minister, rabbi, or priest. In such groups, it's the tour manager who, at least initially, is the outsider.
A tour conductor must quickly establish a relationship with the group's leader in which responsibilities are clarified. (The group leader, being on vacation, will probably want minimal responsibility anyway.) The tour manager must then delicately establish his or her authority with the tour members while warmly acknowledging and praising the group's leader. Keep in mind that the group's leader may have helped organize the group in the first place and will expect some sort of acknowledgment.
Incentive tours present especially subtle challenges. First, the clients are all winners. The tour is their reward for personal and corporate achievement. As a result, they expect their tour director to be more of a host or service person than a leader, and they expect that service to be professional and even-handed. Incentive travelers, the elite of their company, expect a first-class performance from every person they deal with on their trip.
Furthermore, incentive travelers aren't always in the best frame of mind when their vacation begins. "They may be irritated by certain rules of the incentive," explains Kathleen Kearney, former manager of Crimson Incentive Services. "For instance, they may not have reached a sales level that permitted them to bring their spouse free of charge, whereas the person sitting next to them did. Incentive clients can be somewhat cranky at the beginning, and the trip director should expect and understand this."
Finally, trip directors must understand that they represent two companies: the corporation sponsoring the tour and the incentive house operating it. On the one hand, they must identify themselves with the client's company, frequently underscoring the team spirit they share. At the same time, they must submit to the leadership of the incentive company. Trip directors must be prepared to attend frequent planning meetings, take on many humble tasks, and surrender their authority to that of the incentive supervisors. The traditional tour manager, used to on-the-road autonomy, may initially find this position disorienting.
"The only distinguishing characteristic of the American character I've been able to discover is a fondness for ice water," said Mark Twain in a typical bit of wry satire. In reality, to a visiting foreigner, Americans seem to possess a multitude of unexpected cultural traits that often amuse, confuse, or fluster the visitor. In turn, Americans who travel abroad find certain foreign behavior patterns to be equally unusual or unsettling.
Television has hardly helped the situation. Though it has turned the world into a global village, with each citizen seemingly better informed than ever before, it has also terribly distorted the image we have of one another. People from other countries know a lot about America, but their preconceptions have been oddly shaped by the media. For example, many tours include the South Fork Ranch in Texas as a place for foreign visitors to see. It's where some of the old TV series Dallas was shot. Europeans really get excited about seeing it. It's strange to think that their expectations of America are probably very influenced by TV shows, like Dallas and Baywatch. Add to this the typical American's poor knowledge of geography and culture and the problem becomes clear--26 percent of the college students polled in a recent study stated that a principal language of Latin America is Latin.
Tour conductors need to develop an informed sensitivity to foreign cultural differences. Such sensitivity is especially important for those who deal with inbound foreign groups or who escort tours outbound to other countries. Cultural knowledge smooths interactions with foreign nationals, helps adjust expectations, and provides a rich topic for tour narration. If you specialize in taking groups to other countries, you'll have the task of helping them navigate in a foreign culture. As the escort who "stars" in the fine documentary, The Grand Tour, puts it: "My job is to change people's perspective." This is also true if you escort groups inbound to North America from other countries. In fact, in that situation you become an ambassador of culture. You may be the only citizen of your country that the foreign visitor will ever get to know.
Ethnocentrism and Stereotyping
The term most relevant to any discussion of cultural interaction is ethnocentrism. Ethnocentrism is defined as the belief that one's own nationality or ethnic group is superior to all others. Examples of ethnocentrism are many: the Texan who views Parisians as culturally deprived because they "don't know how to cook a good steak"; the Parisian who believes the Texan is crude because of his boisterous, good-time manner; or the Japanese tourist who visits the United States and wonders why there aren't Indians on every corner or gangsters on every street.
A second relevant term is stereotyping, the tendency to believe that an unvarying pattern or manner marks all members of a group. The previous paragraph about Texans, Parisians, and Japanese contains several stereotypes: statements that may apply to some members of each ethnic group but do not apply to all of its members. Certain supposed cultural traits have no validity at all. In fact, they're dangerous.
Perspectives for Avoiding Cultural Insensitivity
Tour directors who deal frequently with foreign places or people should avoid ethnocentrism and stereotyping. They should always keep the following points in mind.
The "Rightness" or "Wrongness" of Certain Practices Varies from Culture to Culture. Many American travelers find Spanish bullfighting to be a brutal tradition. They certainly have the right to that belief, but they must also understand that culture has a major impact on that judgment. Spaniards view bullfighting as a sport of bravery. Furthermore, Hindus consider the American practice of slaughtering cattle for meat just as barbaric as bullfighting. Tour managers mustn't impose their values on others. They must realize that cultural values are often neither right nor wrong, only different.
Cultural customs sometimes affect a tour manager quite directly. For instance, escorts often consider groups from Japan cheap, since they rarely tip the escort or driver. But the lack of gratuities has nothing to do with miserliness. Just as an American would not think of tipping a dentist, salesperson, or electrician, a Japanese tourist is simply not in the habit of tipping a guide or a tour conductor, who in Japan is viewed as a service professional.
Cultural Values Are in Constant Flux and Can Become Rapidly Outdated. An Asian traveler who visited the United States in the 1950s would certainly be surprised by current American values. The visitor who smokes would probably be annoyed by current U.S. smoking regulations. Most Asians don't perceive smoking to be a significant health hazard or a behavior that should be controlled through legislation. A tour conductor guiding a group of Asians might have to readjust smoking policy on the motorcoach (assuming it is legal) and ensure that restaurants seat the group in a smoking section. In turn, a tour leader will encounter real problems when taking a group of nonsmokers to Asia. Above all, tour managers should not impose their values on the group, except perhaps in the gentlest of ways.
Cultural Values Vary Within Regions of the Same Country. You wouldn't expect a New Yorker to behave like someone from Des Moines, so don't assume that all Belgians, for instance, will be the same. Someone from Brussels may have very different values than a person from the small town of Tielt. A Belgian of Flemish descent may think differently from a Belgian of Gallic ancestry. Individuals may not fit any predictable cultural pattern at all. A tour conductor should avoid any oversimplifications about culture, since it's always multi-layered.
On the other hand, certain generalizations about groups, when valid and useful, can be justified. Almost all tour managers comment that Australian vacationing groups, for example, expect a good-time, party atmosphere and don't especially appreciate receiving an array of facts and figures from their guide. On the other hand, German groups are said to expect much factual information, and they're usually sticklers for accuracy. In these matters, let honest experience, yours and your company's, be your guide.
Some Cultural Specifics
It is thoroughly impossible to prepare a tour manager for all aspects of worldwide cultures. A short discussion of a few aspects of general behavior, however, can help make one aware of the astonishing variety of cultural practices.
Again, remember that not every member of a culture will espouse each custom. For more specific information, you may wish to consult the fine Culturgram series, published by Brigham Young University (see Appendix A), which culturally profiles over 100 countries.
A tour conductor will greet a busload of clients at the start of each tour, and dozens of individuals during the course of the trip. In dealing with foreigners, sensitivity to different styles of greeting can enable the tour manager to make that important first impression a good one.
Shaking hands is the norm in many countries, although the United States and Canadian "pumping" handshake can seem strange to people from other nations. In some countries, especially those that are Moslem, women rarely shake hands. In Asia, a bow often replaces the handshake. In Europe, a hug and kiss (in the air, next to but not on the cheek) is a standard greeting between even casual friends.
The use of names also presents problems. A tour director can feel secure in using first names with Canadians and Americans once he or she knows them well. This practice might make a European uncomfortable, however. Remember that among many Asians, the family name is given first.
Two small but important reminders: First, many people consider it rude to wear sunglasses while conversing. In the United States and Canada, it might only be considered standoffish. Second, never show the soles of your shoes to a Moslem--it's considered very crude behavior in Moslem countries.
As we've seen, schedules, deadlines, and reservation times are critical to a tour. Yet the perception of their importance will vary depending on the origin of the group and the destination to be visited.
In general, punctuality is important to travelers from Northern Europe, Japan, Canada, and the United States (again, many exceptions exist). The concept of time is much more elastic in Latin America, Africa, the Caribbean, on South Sea islands, and around the Mediterranean.
Since punctuality is critical to a tour's workings, what can a tour manager do with a group that doesn't consider punctuality a high priority? The tour director must repeatedly and patiently point out to the group the importance of staying on schedule. The tour director might describe the dire results of missing a certain deadline. If the group is traveling in the United States, they should be told how seriously Americans take promptness. (Be prepared for a lecture from the group on why this is obsessive, insensitive, and stress-provoking behavior!) Canadian and American tourists need to be similarly prepared for experiences abroad that move at a snail's pace.
Remember that not every culture puts a premium on waiting in orderly lines. In many countries, service people try to handle everyone at once. To push for attention is therefore viewed not as rude but as sensible. Prepare your group for this. Also be aware that cultural values often override your plan for motorcoach seating. For example, Pakistanis have their own idea of what assigned seating or rotation should be: the men sit in the front and the women sit in the back.
In the movies, it's a stock scene. A visitor sits down to dinner in a foreign land and is confronted by some unidentifiable or terribly unappetizing treat, such as eel, brain, or chocolate-covered ants. Rarely does a traveler encounter such bizarre delicacies. Yet it's true that we each have strongly ingrained eating habits (especially with respect to breakfast) that may conflict with what another culture considers appropriate fare. Tour conductors must be aware of worldwide culinary customs and how they affect a traveling group.
Among outbound groups from the United States and Canada, certain reactions are predictable. They'll see foreign service as awfully slow. Other countries consider dining a major event to be savored; in the United States and Canada, it's often something to be done quickly. A tour conductor must explain this fact to the group as well as guide them through unfamiliar fare.
A tour manager must also prepare foreign restaurants for American idiosyncrasies, such as the desire for water with every meal and the habit of eating salad before the main entree. (In many countries, the salad serves as an after-meal aid to digestion.)
Many other small, local quirks must be explained. In Egypt, eating all the food on the plate usually indicates you want more. In Switzerland, asking for salt and pepper is an insult to the chef. In Austria, cutting fish with a regular knife is uncouth. In many countries, eating food while walking down the street is considered uncultured.
In turn, many eating customs in the United States disorient foreign visitors. They'll be amused by salad dressing, baked potatoes, and water with their meals. They'll be astounded by the size of meal portions. Since any traveling group brings along its peculiarities of taste and appetite, a group may be intrigued by distinctly American dishes yet seek out, whenever possible, familiar fare. Since menu phrases may be difficult for a foreign group to understand, they may prefer cafeterias, where they can see what they will eat and order by pointing to the item.
Finally, the tour leader must explain a country's tipping practices. In New Zealand and China, for example, tipping a waiter is considered unnecessary and even gauche. In much of Europe, a 15 percent gratuity is added directly to the bill. In Italy, a waiter expects an additional tip over and above the 15 percent included in the bill.
Small cultural factors often become large for anyone visiting another country. For example, we rarely think about public restrooms. Yet you, as the tour conductor, must always think about them, if only because forty people attempting to use two public restrooms in an exotic land is a daunting experience.
First, familiarize groups with the name used: bathroom, restroom, WC (water closet), or lavette (a term used only in parts of Rhode Island). You must point out that in Europe "bathroom" means just that--a place to take a bath. It's not a toilet. A private bathroom for each hotel room is not always a given. The variety of bathroom plugs, faucets, and handles that exist worldwide (as well as overall design configurations) is mind-boggling. A common experience in Europe, for example, is to mistake a pull chain dangling from the wall for a tub-draining mechanism. You yank it, and very quickly a maid bursts into your bathroom--you've pulled the emergency call device.
What Most Germans Find Surprising When They Visit North America * Doggie bags * Mobile homes * Orderly lines * Vast distances * Overt patriotism * "Bottomless" cups of coffee * The quantity of food at meals * Mail boxes on posts * Four-way stop signs * Wheelchair accessibility * Stores that are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week * The incredible variety of food in supermarkets * The fact that U.S. citizens have the right to bear arms * The fact that young people can drive and marry before they can legally drink
Another common source of social blunders is body language and gestures. The hitchhiking sign used by Americans and Canadians, for example, is obscene in Australia. The United States "okay" sign means "zero" in France and "money" in Japan and is an obscenity in Russia. In most countries, two people stand close together when they talk; this proximity, however, disturbs Americans, Canadians, and the British. There's no way that you can fully prepare clients for these sorts of subtleties, but they do serve as endlessly entertaining and enlightening sources of commentary.
One final critical point for touring: In many countries, what is called the second floor in Canada and the United States is labeled the first, and the first floor is called the ground floor, main level, or rez-de-chaussee.
Dealing with Fellow Workers
Tour conductors are usually only one part of a much larger team that services a tour group. Tour managers must apply their people skills to everyone they deal with, not reserve them only for clients. If a tour director shows arrogance to a hotel desk clerk or disregard for a motorcoach driver's skills, the clients' tour experience will surely deteriorate. Three categories of coworkers merit special discussion.
Once one of the most glamorous jobs in the travel industry, flight attending has become an increasingly stressful and thankless occupation. Modest pay, increased passenger loads, labor unrest, and frequent litigation have all taken some of the sheen off the profession. Yet flight attendants are professionals. Their job is hardly as easy as it seems. When the cabin door closes, they are in charge.
The tour director must perform a delicate balancing act when escorting a group on a plane. You must learn to maintain control of your group while at the same time deferring to the flight crew's leadership. Seat belt laws, for example, apply to you, too.
The best approach is to introduce yourself to the head flight attendant or those attendants who are serving the cabin section where your group is seated. Offer to help out in any way possible. Then stay out of their way. For instance, it's important for tour managers to circulate among tour passengers from the start, to help cement the escort-client relationship that will hold the group together. This should not be done, however, while attendants are moving carts through the aisles. Socialize in those "off" moments when nothing much is going on in the aircraft.
On some intermodal tours, a tour leader can expect to work with a different motorcoach operator each day. On other trips, however, and especially on a motorcoach tour, the driver and the tour director become a team. A smooth driver-escort rapport powerfully enhances the tour experience. A bumpy one jars it terribly.
In most cases the person behind the wheel has years of touring experience. Drivers sometimes know more about a trip than the tour manager does. Drivers are important resources. They have many duties beyond driving: they load and unload luggage, assist disembarking passengers, help keep the coach clean, help plan routing, and occasionally supplement the tour manager's narrations or entertainment activities. In turn, the tour director often assists the driver in some of the above tasks. Above all, neither must attempt to usurp the other's prime responsibilities.
A few suggestions can help you maximize the driver-escort relationship:
* If feasible and appropriate, driver and escort should eat meals together. Clients will admire the friendship that exists between the two of you. Eating meals together will also give both of you a little respite from client attention.
* Introduce the driver at the very beginning of the tour. Refer to him or her frequently. Praise a fine driving performance at the day's end.
* Each evening or over breakfast, the two of you should discuss upcoming activities, routes, and responsibilities. Don't throw in an unexpected tour event without informing the driver first.
* If the route is familiar to you but new to the driver, it's perfectly all right for you to give him or her directions. Do it subtly, though, and off the microphone.
* Be open to driver suggestions. Remember, though, that in most things you are in charge. Some drivers have strong personalities and engage in a subtle struggle for tour leadership. Tour groups will judge you poorly if a driver begins taking command of the microphone. Yet some drivers try to do this. You must be very firm in such a situation.
* From time to time personality conflicts arise between driver and tour manager. If at all possible, don't allow passengers to become aware of this discord. As soon as you return to your tour company for debriefing, discuss the matter fully with your supervisor.
When a step-on guide takes over the microphone, the group members' attention shifts to the guide, yet their loyalty and trust remain with the tour manager. This "split allegiance" can be awkward.
To keep things running smoothly, the tour conductor should hand over authority by warmly introducing the step-on guide by name. Acknowledge the guide's expertise and then pay attention like everyone else. In most instances the tour manager should stay with the group, even though someone else is in charge. Otherwise, the tour members will feel abandoned.
Preventing Escort Burnout
The statistics are troubling. The typical part-time tour director stays in the job for only four years; a full-timer, only seven. As indicated in Chapter 1, there are many causes. There's no doubt that the stresses of tour management can cause rapid burnout.
Much of this anxiety can be avoided. Certain tactics can sharply reduce the stress a tour conductor feels.
Sensitivity to One's Own Needs
When visiting a particular city, film director Alfred Hitchcock always stayed in the same hotel and requested the same room. For him, predictability was more soothing than variety.
Perhaps you're the kind of person who is unnerved by the unpredictable. Though unforeseeable events will always challenge you, you may prefer to do everything possible to reduce all stress-causing factors that can be anticipated. For example, many tour managers specialize in only one or two destinations. Then if a problem occurs, they know whom to talk to and are intimately familiar with the available options.
Other tour leaders treasure variety and are bored by predictability. If you're one of these persons, it's probably better to work for a company that sends you to a new destination each trip. For you, the stresses involved in dealing with the unfamiliar will be far outweighed by the exhilaration provided by fresh, novel locations.
Whether you specialize in one trip or vary your assignments, your career will probably travel a predictable arc. For the first few months, the job will be quite stressful--there's so much new to learn. If you feel the same level of stress after six months or more, tour management may not be for you. Typically, however, you'll enter a period of satisfaction and balance. The job will still be demanding, but you'll know, deep in your heart, that you genuinely love tour management.
For some, this period of satisfaction lasts for years, even decades. Eventually, though, most tour managers reach a burnout stage. They become jaded or irritable, and the joy is replaced with cynicism or boredom. They must listen to their needs--the need to find a new career. They should either work at rekindling their energy and commitment or move on to something else, often in some other segment of the tour and travel industry. Here they can find job satisfaction again, where the challenges are better suited to their present stage in life.
Awareness of Body Rhythms
You may consider yourself a morning person or you may work better at night. Whatever the case, you must closely monitor how your body clock affects your job performance. For instance, if you normally sleep late, you'll have to do all you can to break that habit, since touring often begins at 9 A.M. or earlier. You may seek to escort those tours that operate primarily at night, such as New York theater and nightclub tours. Conversely, a "morning person" who is listless at night will have to find a way to become energized for an evening tour activity. You might want to take a short nap in the late afternoon when your group has returned to the hotel after a day's touring.
No factor affects one's body clock more dramatically than jet lag. Once thought to be primarily a psychological reaction to lengthy air travel, jet lag is now known to be a physiological phenomenon. Crossing time zones wreaks havoc on hormone levels, blood components, digestion, and overall mental alertness. For example, a trip from Houston to Helsinki can throw your body totally out of synchronization, since Finland's day is Houston's night. At 3 A.M. you wake up, your body ready for dinner. At lunch time, you may nod off into that soup in front of you--your body is telling you it is 4 A.M. (Remember, too, that your whole group will be having the same reaction.)
What do most medical authorities recommend to combat jet lag? Several medications are now being offered that help the body readjust quickly. More traditional strategies are listed below.
* Try to avoid hectic activities the day before your trip.
* Eat lightly and drink plenty of water while in flight. Avoid alcohol or sleep medication.
* Get as much rest as possible on the plane, especially when your group is sleeping or watching a movie.
* Shortly after departure, reset your watch to your destination's time.
* After traveling west to east (the toughest for most), get outside early the first morning, but avoid late afternoon exposure to light. East-to-west travel requires staying outdoors in the late afternoon and for at least a few hours in the morning. This helps to reset those rhythms cued by sunlight.
* Keep active on your arrival day, but try to get to bed early.
Tour directors are often tempted to overdo both play and work. Pace your work carefully during the day and don't stay out late at night.
The movie The Accidental Tourist (and the book it was based on) describes a travel writer who invents every conceivable way to cushion himself and his readers from the rigors of travel. Although the story's central character is obsessive about the stress of travel, there's no doubt that being on the road cuts us off from the comfortable patterns we treasure when at home. Tour directors should do everything possible to preserve some of the important links to their more everyday lifestyle.
* Eat the same quantity and types of food, when possible, as you do at home. Traveling (and free food) should not be an excuse to overindulge.
* Try to work some sort of exercise program into your daily routine. Use the hotel's health club facility.
* Make friends among those with whom you work. A network of out-of-town "allies" does much to cushion the potential loneliness of escorting. Telephone your friends and family back home on a regular basis, for they miss you, too.
* Don't obsessively overwork. You may, for example, want to turn down a tour to remain home for a sensible amount of time between assignments.
* Make your hotel room an extension of your home. Bring a few personal mementos with you that have no purpose except to comfort you. Call room service occasionally so you can dine in a relaxed setting free of interruptions.
Guarding Your Privacy
Some movie celebrities are truly gracious to their fans, but others can be rude. Why? One reason is that they may resent the constant assaults on their privacy.
It's not enough that you're the "mother" and "father" to tour members. You play another role as well. To the group, you're an instant celebrity, a "personality," a star. They want to talk to you, to find out everything about you, to have their picture taken with you. They may even ask you to autograph their itineraries.
You should deal with this loss of anonymity with tact, warmth, and a sense of humor. This kind of attention comes with the job. But you should also protect yourself from the stress that this little dose of fame brings.
* Carve out blocks of off-duty time, if possible, to enjoy attractions that you want to see.
* During free time, eat your meals in restaurants other than the ones in your hotel, or use room service.
* Set aside moments to simply enjoy being alone in your room.
* For companionship, rely on friends you make in each city your tour visits (this will be easier if you specialize in one itinerary) or on your driver.
* Unless you don't mind a constant stream of conversation, avoid sitting among clients on a motorcoach, in a restaurant, or on a plane, even when you're on duty. Stay close and visible, though. They do need to feel that you are there for them.
* When off-duty, dress casually. The group so associates you with a uniform or professional attire that you'll be able to walk right through a client-filled lobby without being recognized at all--one of the more amusing phenomena of the tour business.
Whether tour conductors should or should not announce their room number to clients is a much debated question among tour companies. Giving out such information emphasizes that a tour manager is accessible and ready to serve. On the other hand, tour participants have a bad habit of disturbing their tour director's privacy with a barrage of trivial requests, such as a need of towels or soap, when they could just as easily have dialed housekeeping.
No matter which approach you take, you definitely should be available to satisfy a client's reasonable or pressing needs. Therefore, tell the front desk or operator to put through all necessary calls from tour members, and let the front desk know where you will be when you go out, in case an emergency occurs.
Above all, you should feel that you are with your group by choice, not that you're chained to them. A good tour manager feels honest affection for tour members. Once they sense it, group travelers will return this affection willingly and with respect.
Tour conductors face powerful psychological forces when managing a group. Its members have high expectations, wish to be a part of the group, and may revert to childlike behavior. To manage a group effectively, a tour director must be fair, praising, firm, flexible, encouraging of adult behavior, and willing to exceed expectations and to lead. To be culturally sensitive, tour managers must avoid ethnocentrism and stereotyping. They need to be aware of the variety and ever-changing nature of cultural values. They must also remain alert to the needs of their fellow workers as well as to their own physiological and psychological reactions to the tour-leading profession.
QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION
1. Describe three psychological forces that mold group behavior.
2. List seven general strategies that a tour director should employ when managing a group.
3. Explain ethnocentrism and stereotyping.
4. What four points about foreign cultural values should a tour manager keep in mind?
5. You are escorting a group to Venice. What cultural factors might you discuss with your group regarding the way Italians greet one another, dine, and treat time?
6. Describe the working relationship that should exist between a tour manager and a flight attendant crew.
7. Give six ways an escort can maximize the driver-escort relationship.
8. Identify four ways a tour conductor can avoid job burnout.
9. What is jet lag, and how can it be minimized?
10. List at least four ways a tour manager can maintain some sense of a normal home life while on the road.
* Psychological insight is required to meet many of the challenges that a tour manager faces. Six situations are described below. In a paragraph, describe how you would deal with each:
CASE 1: You are taking a group of twenty in an outdoor elevator to the top of a tower that rises above a major city. Two-thirds of the way up, the elevator stops. The elevator operator presses the intercom button; it doesn't work. He presses "emergency descent"; that doesn't work either. Your group is getting nervous, as the elevator hangs 600 feet in the air in the full heat of the sun.
CASE 2: A client arrives for your motorcoach tour and claims that, because she gets motion sickness, someone in your office has promised her the front-row seat for the entire trip. This is clearly contrary to your company's seat rotation policy. There is no memo in your briefing materials about this client's special request.
CASE 3: You are the tour manager on a twelve-day European motorcoach tour. Your company's policy is to inform clients through the tour brochure that "gratuities to escort and driver, if deserved, should be given individually--no group tip collection, please." Your driver, however, who works for a European bus company (not the tour operator), informs you that he expects you to organize a group collection for him or to at least manipulate a client into doing it. You get the feeling that if you do not agree, he and his driving will soon become a problem.
CASE 4: It's the end of a motorcoach tour. You have two official drop-off points for your Floridian clients: the bus terminals in Pompano Beach and Miami. However, between these two cities, a client says that you will be going right by her house in Hallandale--could you just drop her off? It would only take a minute.
CASE 5: You are escorting an inbound group of forty from China. Despite your company's no-smoking policy, several in the group insist that their travel agent told them your company permits on-coach smoking. You say that this is not the case, yet as soon as the motorcoach begins to roll, many in the group start smoking.
CASE 6: A passenger tells you that this tour is turning out to be very different than she expected. She shows you a copy of the itinerary in her brochure. It turns out to be an old, out-of-date one. The tour has changed since her version was printed. One hotel is different, a minor attraction has been dropped, and the "scenic drive" along a certain road has been replaced by a faster, less interesting one.
PRETEST: Respond to each of the following statements with either A (agree) or D (disagree).
1. Bullfighting is a barbaric custom. --
2. Smoking should be banned in most public places. --
3. Americans are generally polite. --
4. At seventy, a person often knows and remembers fewer things than he or she did at thirty. --
5. Dying for one's country is usually not worthwhile. --
6. Time is money. --
7. If someone gives you a gift, the first thing you should do is say "thank-you." --
8. You should memorize the first names of individuals on your tour as soon as possible. --
9. To be polite, you should finish as much of the food on your plate as possible. --
10. The practice of paying little bribes to get your way in some countries is disgusting. --
11. Foreigners often smell funny, but Americans rarely do. --
12. Women who don't shave their legs are usually unattractive. --
* Upon completion of the above, go back and read the chapter. When you've finished the chapter, complete the remainder of this activity.
Now that you've read the chapter, you should realize that a tour manager must have a global perspective on cultural practices. Go back over the above statements and see whether you have changed your mind about any of the responses you gave. Below each statement, explain your new perspective in one or two sentences. If your point of view hasn't changed, state this, but acknowledge another point of view that may exist. (Note that several customs referred to above weren't directly discussed in the text.)
EXAMPLE: I still dislike bullfighting, but I know that Spaniards perceive it as a sport that demonstrates the courage of both the matador and the bull.
Bullfighting is probably as repugnant, from an animal rights or religious perspective, as our own slaughtering of animals for meat.
* Foreign language skills are important if your tour operator deals with non-English-speaking people. Even if you work with English-speaking foreigners, however, you may sometimes find yourself mystified. The comments below contain terms commonly used in Australia. Try to fathom their meaning and complete them appropriately.
1. "Everything is apples" means --.
(A) the information is in the computer
(B) things are under control
(C) it's spring
(D) everything is going wrong
2. If an Australian says, "Break it down!", he --.
(A) wants you to stop
(B) is getting angry
(C) wants you to share a drink with him
(D) is expressing disbelief
3. "Enjoy the bush, but beware of the Marchies. They might -- you."
4. If a salesclerk asks you, "Are you right?", she wants to know if you --.
(A) wish to purchase the item you are looking at
(B) need assistance
(C) are not feeling well
(D) have shoplifted
5. "I'll be back this avro. I'll see you --."
(A) this afternoon
(C) next week
(D) next year
6. "These opals are fair dinkum, they're --."
(B) well priced
7. Someone who is "cluey" is --.
8. "That's a bonzer idea you have. You should be --."
9. "Rellies" are --.
(A) little jelly beans
(B) small kangaroos
(D) the little bits of pickle in relish
10. "I'm barracking for you. I want you to --."
(A) stay in my house
(C) enjoy a good night's sleep
11. A "stickybeak" is someone who --.
(A) stays too long
(B) has a cold
(C) is nosy
(D) eats sloppily
12. "Hey bluie, where did you get your --?"
(A) red hair
13. "He's a digger. He's a --."
14. "The wine's really plonk. It's --."
15. A waitress says, "You have a choice of entrees." An entree is --.
(A) a dessert
(B) the main course
(C) an appetizer
(D) a bathroom
* Visitors from another country are often surprised by little things.
If you were born and raised outside the United States or Canada, list below five things that surprised you about North America when you moved here. If you grew up in the United States or Canada, interview someone you know who was born abroad and list what he or she found unusual here.
Country you are (or he/she is) from:
Things surprising about the United States or Canada:
Now ask yourself (if you were born abroad) or the person you interviewed (if you are a North American): "What five things would an American or Canadian find unusual or interesting in your country of origin?"
Marc Mancini, Ph.D.
Department of Travel
West Los Angeles College
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|Publication:||Conducting Tours, A Practical Guide, 3rd ed.|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2001|
|Previous Article:||Chapter 3 Multi-day tours.|
|Next Article:||Chapter 5 Working with hotels.|