Area Report - Jan Roberts

Jan Roberts - Area Representative for Australasia/Oceania

We are at the crossroads in Australia. Tour guides have finally been recognised by the Federal Government with the creation of GOA – a national body, which has attracted funds and support from our federal Government. GOA is the acronym for Guiding Organisations Australia, the umbrella body which hopes to direct training, and professionalism for all guiding organisations throughout our nation. In its fledgling stage at the moment we have high hopes for the future as we grow and “fly” together. 

Guide Associations from all over Australia selected delegates to come together for meetings and telephone hook-ups to form an inaugural committee to lobby the Federal Government for recognition and I would like to thank these people for their hard, earnest work which looks as if it may bear fruit!!! We will hear more about GOA throughout the convention as these hard working delegates are with us for the week. 

Tour guides are everywhere in Australia, you will find them in remote corners of the country, in small rural tourism information offices, in city info booths, maintaining tour desks in posh hotels, taking shore excursions from cruise ships, escorting domestic and international tourists around the country on camping/coach tours right through to the full-blown 5-6 star luxury tours. 

I have been lucky enough to see many of these guides – and in every case the guide who waits to take you to your destination or is there to tell you about what you are looking at is passionate about their tour. You cannot be a good tour guide if you are not. It does not matter if you are working in a paid or voluntary position, you must know your tour “backwards”, your communication skills must be excellent and you must be able to handle all situations that can occur. 

As we are now in a world of global communications international tourists can access every corner of this country through the internet/TV coverage/ documentary films on cable TV/ phone/fax/email etc. I have just been speaking to a Scottish friend who is in Melbourne visiting her sister and she found (on the internet) a boat cruise through the wetlands around the Barmah forest region in the Murray River area of northern Victoria – just 2 hours but in her opinion one of the best tours she had done in the world, great commentary and wonderful scenery and she is a very well-travelled professional lady!!! I’m sure everyone here has similar stories. 

But, we have to be cautious because it only needs one bad guide for our reputation to be sullied and we have to be vigilant in making sure all guides have standards to adhere by and that they are aware of our Code of Guiding Practice (handout #1) 

Throughout Australia we have training programs available. Each state has its own Tourism Training body. 

These Training bodies conduct all accredited courses according to the guidelines in the curriculums set down. However we also have specific venue/site operations that conduct their own courses. Amongst these are the various State Art Gallery Guides who undergo a vigorous training period and are some of the best volunteer guides in the country. The Sydney Opera House also conducts their own courses and I think the guides at this venue are the best in Australia, the consistency and professionalism shown by all the guides at SOH is exceptional. Mind you they are perhaps the only group of guides who are guaranteed almost full–time work!!! 

The National Trust trains their guides and has regular update sessions as does the Museum of Victoria. One of the best training experiences I’ve had was for the Melbourne Golden Mile under the auspices of the Museum of Melbourne – art historians, history academics, heritage architects, social science academics specialising in indigenous heritage all lectured to us and we received invaluable information about our city. Unfortunately this is a hard luck story as currently what was a marvellous walk through the streets of Melbourne has been suspended for professional guides with the Museum and Information Victoria locked in negotiations re the funding of what is perceived as a self-guided tour - THIS IS WHAT WE ARE UP AGAINST!!! And…we were only paid $50.00 for 2 solid hours of walking and talking!!! 

Then we have people who are (or would like to be) called tour guides who have done, in some cases, as little as four hours of an orientation day. So we have to try to “suss out” these operations and convince them that there is a professional body who can make a difference to their training and that the “greeters” / “meeters”/ “information givers” will at least know how to speak, handle groups, be culturally aware and be a little more professional. 

Government funded institutions such as the TAFE colleges and some Universities have largely carried out formal training for guides. Until two years ago there were dedicated tour guide courses, but now tour guiding finds itself as a small component of a tourism course, if it is offered at all. In Victoria private tertiary institutions such as William Angliss School of Hospitality and Tourism offer tour guide courses within their eco-tourism and resort tourism courses (the PTGAA gives an annual prize of a year’s membership to our Association to the best student). 

ACTH – Australian College of Tourism and Hospitality used to have tour guide courses which lasted for 5 weeks and were largely taken by overseas students, with English as their second language, to satisfy their immigration requirements- very frustrating for the trainer!!! The emphasis in this institution is now on hospitality. 

CAE – Council of Adult Education has a dedicated tour guide course which runs for 8 weeks and costs $ (AB – do you know how much this costs??). Some of our best guides come from this course as it is comprehensive, has professional guides as trainers and concentrates on the delivery of excellent information and service. 

All students who complete an accredited course are encouraged to join the appropriate category of the local Association. 

Each State has its own criteria for membership of the Association but all have regular meetings, are association members of GOA and conduct many education programs and familiarisation visits. Social occasions give all members an opportunity to meet new guides and provide a wonderful networking opportunity. 

As competition for the tourist dollar becomes tighter operators are tempted to economise by not having a guide do the commentary and this is a real problem we have in Australia. Groups coming from the USA/UK travel with a tour manager who often gives commentary or relies on the coach-captain to give commentary. Many coach-captains are very knowledgable and can enhance a tour with expert commentary but there is a safety issue as this is done whilst driving and in the bigger cities with increasing traffic one wonders when the first accident will occur. In Queensland and the NT drivers cannot have hand held microphones, but even with headphones there is still a risk. 

On the other hand the Savannah guides who operate for ecotourism companies in the Top End of Australia are very skilled when it comes to commentary – they all use head-phones, inform the clients of road conditions which may mean that they cannot continue their commentary and are always with the clients at every stop to answer questions and give further information. 

Another group of guides throughout Australia are our foreign-speaking guides. Most languages from across the world can be found being spoken here and we have guides whom we can call on to help with these diverse languages. The largest group would be the German-speaking guides. German tourists come to Australia for extended touring which is usually about 4 weeks in duration. A local German guide accompanies these groups. We also have the annual Shore Excursions for German Ships who come to the Southern oceans on a regular basis. Depending on the size of the ship we can require up to 15-20 German-speaking guides at any one time in any port – this can cause enormous problems as this work is seasonal and guides may only have 1 or 2 days of work a year. Ports such as Townsville (Q), Devonport (Tas.) have been a “nightmare” with local guides being difficult to obtain, however we now have a core of local guides in these small ports who have had some training either with the operator itself or the local tourism body. The guides are so enthusiastic about giving the clients great information about their “patch” which gives the clients a wonderful experience – well worth the training expenses. No longer (I hope) do we have the German-speaking person (whom we were informed was OK and “knew her stuff”)who hopped on the coach heading for the ferry to take some very fussy pax to Magnetic Is. said: "……well I am only a housewife who happens to speak German and have never been to Magnetic Is.)!!! 

We have Spanish guides, French, Italian, Russian and of course all the Asian languages and have also been able to find Hungarian, Eastern European countries, Finnish etc. etc. These guides can be found all over Australia. We even have, at least one guide, who has worked with a seat-in-coach company and can, very successfully, translate the English commentary to both Spanish and Italian pax for the duration of the 3- hour tour!!! 

Guides throughout Australia run the full gamut of the socio-economic scale. We are not paid well and if you have a full – time job as a tour guide you are lucky!!! Operators pay as much a $245.00, down to $130-00 for a full day and you will only receive $50.00 for a see-off at a hotel or airport. Most work is paid by “by the job” – e.g.: M&G, Departure Assistance., 1/2day S/S, F/D S/S. Hospitality Desk duties (usually paid by the hour), Shore Excursions etc. If you escort a through tour the pay varies enormously – from $235.00 to $90.00 per day!!! 

So we have a real issue here and we will be trying to remedy the situation in the near future – should we have union? Whom do we lobby?? How can we make sure we are appreciated for the service we give………let this Convention be a conduit for change!!! 

As yet we do not have a badge or licensing system for guides in Australia. Several years ago ITOA tried to institute a badge system, but cost, lack of training courses and changes to personnel in ITOA and also pressure form ITOA’s members who were using “underpaid” or no guides at all saw this initiative fail. GOA is to investigate the feasibility for a licensing system to be instituted throughout Australia. 

We watch with great interest such systems elsewhere in the world. 

Another problem, which is arising in Australia, is the lack of younger, competent guides. As this work could possibly be described as a “lifestyle” job and there is no guarantee the mortgage will be paid, it appeals to people wanting in colloquial terms, a sea-change. We, therefore have as guides former teachers, academics, retired business people, social scientists, art specialists – the list is endless but not all are below 40!!! Most of the younger guides have another job/profession, which can be juggled when the tour work comes along. So……….we have to “grab” the “youngies” when they cross our paths!!! 

Across the Tasman, there are many guides and the success and problems which occur in Australia apply to New Zealand. Committees have been formed with various government bodies to investigate the possibility of licensing guides but so far this has not come to fruition. 

Norfolk Island and Lord Howe Island have wonderful guiding arrangements. Entire families work together to inform and entertain tourists. The Driver may become the costumed history guide at heritage sites, while around the corner the rest of the family is preparing the refreshments. Another change and the driver will lead a walk through a garden while the coach/bus is being driven by another member of the family to pick you up at the end of the walk. All done with great enthusiasm and hilarity!!!
I am not aware of any formal training requirements on these islands. 

Fiji – mainly resort guides trained on site by the operators. Water activity leaders are, of course, trained in life-saving techniques and you will also find naturalist guides as well. 

Despite all the above and perhaps because of it we have a wonderful profession and all the guides can relate some exhilarating and excruciating experiences which keep us coming back for more but remember: 

P can stand for anything but mainly Professionalism and this can be added to but……….
Q – whatever the quantity give quality”

Jan Roberts.