Once when I was younger I went “Hill Walking,” in Scotland with a horrible guide named Martin. I had images of walking the moors like Jane Austin. Little did I know that “Hill Walking” is Scottish for Mountain climbing/kill the tourist. Martin (the billy goat) began the tour by raising his hand high above his head and yelling, “Follow me.” Most of us managed to lumber up the hill for about half an hour before it got icy and started to snow. By that time Martin was a small dot climbing up the side of a cliff far in the distance followed by an avid twenty-something from Vail, Colorado.
The rest of us hiked back down in the mud to huddle in the bus for the next three hours. Luckily a wonderful English gentleman came prepared with a large thermos of tea and a seemingly endless supply of chocolate bars that he happily shared around with the rest of us. Needless to say Martin didn’t get a lot of tips or good reviews. As a guide, don’t be a Martin.
A good tour guide must remain flexible and always think about the comfort of his guests above everything else. This includes looking at your guests and accessing their abilities. This can be a delicate and difficult situation. Take Martin above. In his mind he was running a five-hour mountain climbing tour and was doing his job. However, when he saw that most of his guests were middle-aged ladies in dresses it should have occurred to him that we didn’t want to and couldn’t climb Glen Nevis.
At the beginning of your tour spell out in detail what you will be doing, what the weather will be, how long you will be gone and what your guests will need to do the tour successfully. Even if you have already gone through all of this before do it again at the very beginning of your tour. Martin should have spelled out in detail how we were to spend the afternoon before we even got on the bus. He apparently knew it might snow. He could have offered a stroll along the beach or Moors (what most of us- including the Englishman were expecting).
This story raises a really common problem- often the group doesn’t all want to or can’t do the same thing and the guide is caught in the middle. In general it is best to go with what the majority of the group wants. Put them in charge of making the decision by saying something like: “Today it looks like it will snow in the Scottish mountains, we will be doing a difficult vertical assent that should take about two hours each way. Hiking gear is strongly recommended, as is being in great shape. Since some of you don’t look prepared for this type of hill walking tour maybe we should go for a walk along the beach or moors instead. As a group please decide amongst yourselves what you would like to do today, I will be back in five minutes.” Give your guests options AND excuses. “It’s snowing, We don’t have hiking gear with us.” Let them take responsibility for the choices but you need to be sensitive enough to anticipate problems and flexible enough to change the plan for the entire tour.