Community Tourism Guide Survey (2006)

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Introduction

Jocotepec arbol en recorrido
This survey was prepared by Gerhard Buttner and Ron Mader to develop information that could be shared with community guiding groups, guide trainers and interested individuals. Information was collected in 2006. Gerhard presented a review of this survey in Spanish at the annual Mushroom Fair in Cuajimoloyas, Oaxaca.

Main Conclusions

Interesting conclusions from the results of this survey have been shared with community guides in the Sierra Norte and Coast of Oaxaca, the Selva Lacandona in Chiapas as well as with groups in Yucatan and Los Tuxtlas, Veracruz.

Among the most prominent conclusions:

  1. Many respondents found local knowledge and a local point of view more important than specialist scientific knowledge. So: Guides, beware of listing endless plant names without linking that information to your community or interesting facts about them.
  2. Enthusiasm and friendliness is also appreciated by visitors -- visitors enjoy being with a guide who really enjoys being a guide!
  3. There is an interesting survey result in a shared first spot for the question on visitor interest of "General nature: Scenery, relaxing, exercise" and "Community contact" showing that the respondents have an equal interest in nature and the people living within these natural surroundings.
  4. Community ecotourism groups should be careful when choosing guides as respondents seemed to be bothered particularly by: disinterest in their own local community, insensitivity to nature and an obviously drunk guide.

Survey results per question:

City, Country

We had a clear global participation in this survey with Europe and USA-Canada accounting for 27% each of the participants and 22% from Latin America, 14% from Africa and the remaining 10% from Asia and Australia, (showing the power of the internet in crossing oceans.)

Age

  • 21-30 years: 24%
  • 31-40 years: 32%
  • 41-50 years: 27%
  • 51-60 years: 15%
  • 61-70 years: 2%

How often have you visited rural areas with community guide services?

All the respondents have visited rural areas with a local guide, with 38% responding numerous times.

Where have you had your best experience with a local guide?

Apart from showing the global spread, the interesting aspect of this question is in the additional comments, showing that worldwide many of the same factors make for a "best experience." Some responses:
  • Bathurst Island, Australia - Our guide was a local aboriginee who took so much pride in his island, constantly referring to the islanders as "my people."
  • South Africa - In a private game reserve this guy knew everything.
  • Costa Rica (Bosque de Paz) - Después de la cena, el guía nos invitó a dar un camino por un sendero en la noche. Nos dió una lamparita de mano a cada quién del grupo. Fue increible la capacidad del guía para hacernos ver cosas de noche que no estamos acostumbrados a ver.
  • Celestún, Yucatan - Really enthusiastic and interested and knowledgeable guides with environmental awareness.
  • Misahualli, Ecuador - The local guide and his crew were wonderful. We had a gentle, conscientious guide who made sure we were safe while maximizing our adventure.
  • Oaxaca Mexico (Pueblos Mancomunados) - We spent the weekend hiking. Our three guides were all great. Each grew up in their community and knew much about the "naturaleza" and daily life. For as organized as the trip was, we felt off the tourist track and really enjoyed meeting these rural communities.
  • Lisbon and Trelew, Argentina - Both guides were very knowledgeable, fresh, happy and sensitive to our requirements. They like guessed what we wanted to experience.
  • Daintree Rainforest, Australia - Where provocative storytelling addressed conservation issues and debated solutions.
  • Mauritius - A local took us through the botanical gardens explaining all. Our appreciation of the place increased enormously because of this.
  • Ecuador Andes - Excellent nature walk led by a community member who discussed biodiversity and community relations.
  • La Ventanilla, Oaxaca - They are a cooperative of local guides who really want to conserve the mangrove and crocodile and turtle population. They work a long day and seem to work together to conserve their environment

Where have you had your worst experience with a local guide?

Some responses:
  • The guide was actually very good, but the walk was plant by plant and quite boring
  • A 10-year old kid who knew little beyond the obvious and seemed a bit bored, and you really had to pull any information out of him beyond fairly meaningless names of places. Not unfriendly, but not really appropriate as guide.
  • Every conversation, comment and action had a sexual undertone that was repulsive.
  • We were herded like stupid cows.
  • We became very irritated when he marched us through a beautiful part of the forest without saying a word and took us to a lake as fast as he could.
  • The local guide took for granted that we all spoke perfect Spanish (we did not) and didn't warn us about the dangers of currents between the cenote and the sea. I got into serious trouble and was swept onto urchin-covered rocks where I was battered quite seriously by the waves. The guide was out to sea and made no effort to come help me, thankfully my husband swam out to help me!

On a scale of 1-5 (1 being the least, 5 being the most) please rate your interest in the following activities.

We asked respondents to rate their interest in activities including specific and general nature, physical and intangible culture, folk art, food, adventure travel and community contact. The result shows an interesting shared first spot tied by "General nature: Scenery, relaxing, exercise" and "Community contact" showing that the respondents have an equal interest in nature and the people living within these natural surroundings with an average of 4.2 out of 5.

That there are many real nature enthusiasts is shown by the 3rd place with 4.1: "Specific nature: learning about species and biodiversity (example: bird watching)"

Language Skills Multiple Choice

This was a complicated question to formulate from the first moment and results need to be interpreted on a world-wide level and the survey was after all in English. What is interesting though is that 40% said that English is always important to them, and an additional 31% replied that it is important in a specialist tour.

The implication for community guides is that they might be loosing visitors by ignoring the demand for English guides, and the option of learning extra languages should be considered. The other languages were also mention as useful by some, so in countries where there is contact with these languages they might be considered, but in this English survey the relevance was low.

On a scale of 1-5 (1 being the least, 5 being the most) please rate the level of importance you give the following skills in a community guide:

All the replies received an average of over 4 out of 5, but the clear leader with 4.7 is "local knowledge" – this seems to be the most important added value that local guides can offer their visitors. Other highly-rated skills were "enthusiasm and friendliness" with 4.6 and "environmental awareness" with 4.5.

"Attention to safety" and "good communication skills" follow, both with 4.3 out of 5.

There seems to be a certain level of tolerance by some respondents to "punctuality " and "flexibility to visitor needs" - but communities take note: this view is certainly not shared by all since the average score is still over 4 out of 5.
And here are some additional comments about guides' skills:
  • Interpretation again, the ability to tell a story about a conservation issue and inspire visitors to join in on the conservation effort of the place they are visiting.
  • A good guide should always be ready with a Plan - B type of option. And his/her knowledge about nature and local culture should be complete enough to find connections and to improvise interpretations.
  • Guides should be well trained and tuned to the needs of their visitors as well as their community. communication skills are of the utmost importance!
  • Environmental awareness need not be scientific but does need to be go beyond information to concepts and big ideas. Punctuality can be traded against flexibility to visitor needs. Local knowledge is not as important as local perspective.
  • Local guides need more support to learn internationally recognized species names. For example (in Mexico) not "lion" but puma, not "tigre" but jaguar etc. This is even more important when guiding with bird tours…

What do you find bothersome in a rural guide?

We asked respondents to rank how much they would be bothered by specific behaviors. Some respondents pointed out that ranking from first to last made this a difficult question as most of these factors are important. We confess that this was part of the idea – as these most probable answers were selected from a much longer list by a lengthy test phase with the help of a variety of interested test-run volunteers. The idea was to force respondents to think in more detail which is the relative importance of each one.

The result was a near draw for first place of three answers averaging just over 4 again showing the importance of the local perspective and a combination of human and nature issues:
  • "Under the influence of alcohol" (though some commented that this would depend on the level of alcohol)
  • "Disinterest in local community and surroundings"
  • "Insensitive to nature"

These three were clearly well above the other options, who in order of importance (ie. level of bothersome) were:
  • "Lack of local knowledge" (in a clear 4th spot)
  • "Whining/complaining"
  • "Reluctance to walk"

Conclusions and proposals for follow-up work

What do visitors want from local guides? We heard a number of specific suggestions about what is and what is not desired. That said, it is interesting to note that several of the same places appear in the "best" and "worst" lists. What this means for communities is that praise and criticism need to be taken in equal measure. Improving guide service and insuring consistency will be key in keeping places on the map.
On a side note, the good news is that more participants answered the "best" experience than the number of "worst" experiences.
Respondents said that what they want from a guide is a certain level of confidence and that basic security measures are in place. What was valued across the board were the value of engaged and responsible contact with nature and communities. Highly valued are direct and honest answers to questions asked by visitors. Travelers also want guides who ... want to be guides. Said one: "If the guide doesn't want to be there, then neither will the client."
This survey was answered by 42 respondents. Recommendations for follow-up work include asking travelers visiting specific locales what they expect and how they perceive particular places.
Feria de Hongos 2007

Kudos

For suggestions, many thanks to Marie Gautier, Esther Clauss, Carlos Ortega, Martin Buttner, Gabriela Ramirez, Johan Rohwer, Marianne Heredge, Tim Burford and Kathleen Dowd-Gailey. For assistance promoting the survey, many thanks to ECOCLUB, Mountain Forum, Development Gateway and green-travel.

Editing

Guides
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