No matter how much companies say they value their guides, in practice, free-lance tour guides are often at the bottom of the list when it comes to prioritizing resources for both small and large operators.
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This leads to a self-fulfilling cycle of high guide turn-over, which then makes it even harder for companies to justify spending resources on their teams. The secret ingredient that’s missing in this cycle? A strong company culture that offers value to ALL it’s employees.
Practically speaking, tour guides are the employees 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. You don’t tend to interact with them more than booking them for tours, or checking in on bad reviews.
When treated as free-lancers, guides are going to feel exactly that, as opposed to employees with a connection to your brand.
In this article, I’ll expand upon the importance of having your guides feel like they’re part of the larger company 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).
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Incorporating your guide team into the company culture.
How to get guides to feel like a part of the company, and even, dare I say, love the brand when they worked for countless other operators at the same time? Show them the value of your company culture*, of working with you compared to our competitors.
The ROI is way more than employee retention (and by the way, seasonal turnover might be costing companies just as much as if they put more into their current teams). If you think about it, your guides are the only ones who truly know what’s going on at the ground level. 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. Utilize them as your eyes and ears by bringing them into larger conversations and allowing them to participate.
But beware, this shouldn’t be about what they can offer you, it should be about what you can offer them. I’m simply outlining the benefits you get in exchange.
*A great read about developing company cultures is Great Mondays by Josh Levine.
Three Steps to Determine ‘What is Valuable’ to your Tour Guides
Step 1: Brainstorm a list of ways you can realistically offer value.
This shouldn’t be limited to “pay more than your competitors” (as that might not always be a possibility). What’s ‘valuable’ can span an incredible amount of areas, many of which you might already be doing, especially compared to your competitors. I cannot stress how sadly low the bar is.
Start small and be realistic rather than making grand statements that you won’t be able to upkeep. You might already be offering more than you think.
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
- No ‘take home work’ outside of the actual tour
- Predictable volume of work each season
- Good pay (compared to competitors, doesn’t have to be the best, but shouldn’t be the worst…)
- Clear expectations & milestones of achievement
- A community (this can only be achieved if you put effort into creating a team and work culture)
- A structured, stress-free and productive environment
- A culture of praise
- Flexible work times (maybe you would be ok with one or two guides who cannot work Saturdays but are available otherwise)
- The ability for career progression (as your company grows, who better to grow with you than your guides)
- Training & education opportunities
- A sense of purpose (especially if you have a mission-driven business)
- Networking opportunities (have you ever thought of taking your guides to trade shows or networking events?)
Step 2: Bring this list to guides and ask what is ACTUALLY valuable.
After you’ve brainstormed the list of value you can/do offer, share it with employees. What YOU find valuable, might not be valuable to your guides. This only works if it’s a two-way conversation.
Bonus- it’s incredibly empowering 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 your company can offer guides, advertise it internally. Internal marketing takes some extra effort but really makes the difference.
Bottom line- if you’re putting in the effort, you want to get credit for it (for example, if you pay your guides hourly for extra work- writing a blog post or sending tour images to your marketing team- you want to make it clear that you do so because, as a company, you prioritize their time).
As time goes on, take note of what guides appreciate and expand upon the value you’re giving (and perhaps, put less resources into the value that guides don’t seem to care as much about).
Updated: December 27, 2021