Day 1: Introductions; Who’s Who In The Travel & Tour Industry
Today marked the first day of my new career in the travel industry. Having been a student most of my life, I wasn’t nervous about the workload or being evaluated, but I was anxious to get started and reassure myself that I had made the right decision to come here. Thankfully I enjoyed my first day, and so far, I am happy with my decision. I am confident that I will learn a great deal here at ITMI and that this course will get me started down a more enjoyable career path.
Day 1 focused mainly on a course overview and getting to know our instructors and our fellow classmates. The highlight for me early on in the class was when part of my application about why I wanted to become a Tour Director was read aloud to the class. It was a small gesture on the part of the instructor, but knowing I had said something within that application that resonated with someone who has been in this industry for decades was reassuring and motivating. As a part of the process of becoming familiar with the group, we also had our first in-class assignment. The exercise was to interview one of our fellow ITMI students and then give a 2 minute introduction about that person to the rest of the group. While it was a simple exercise, this was a great way to break the ice because, for me at least, I get nervous when I have to speak in front of groups of people in unfamiliar situations. By having to stand in front of the group on day 1 it forced me to tackle that hurdle immediately. I know the public speaking aspect of tour directing will be my biggest challenge, but I am confident that I will only get better over the course of the next two weeks. That’s why I am here after all…
Our homework tonight was to read a few articles about tour directing and there were two lines in an article from Travel & Leisure that really stuck out to me…The first was in reference to what the author had realized he had been missing by avoiding guided tours and popular tourist sights. By doing this he concluded, “I was pouring over footnotes and ignoring the main text.” The second line that struck me from that same article summarized what a great guide should be able to do for a traveler, “A good guide can bring you to those coveted under-the-radar spots, get you into private collections your friends have never seen. But a great tour guide can steer you back onto the beaten path and help you see the celebrated sites as if for the first time.” I just hope I can begin to learn how to become a great tour director over the next two weeks…
We also had dinner at a delicious Thai Restaurant called Old Siam. I had a wonderful yellow chicken curry with rice, yum!
Day 2: Local & City Sightseeing
Day 2 was another classroom day consisting mainly of theory and a little practical application. We learned all about how to give a basic city tour (time management, points of interest, routing, etc…) and what kind of information to give to your guests. We were also told some general facts about the role of a tour guide, the other types of people and occupations we will be working with on a daily basis, and the types of companies we will have the opportunity to work for. There are certainly many options out there, and as the next two weeks continue I look forward to learning more about the different companies and types of opportunities that will be open to me.
Our in-class assignment of the day was to read about one San Francisco landmark or sight and then give a 30 second talk about that sight to the class. We only had about 5 minutes to prepare for this presentation and we weren’t allowed to use our notes when presenting. The most difficult part of this for me was the limited time to read and retain information about a sight I had known nothing about prior to this assignment; luckily 30 seconds is not a lot of time to fill. The public speaking still makes me nervous, but once again we are encouraged to face this head on…
The object of today was really to prepare us for Day 3 which is a city tour of San Francisco. This tour will first be given by the instructors so we can observe how they give commentary and work with the coach driver. In the afternoon we will have to act as the tour guide…
Day 3: Field Workshop
Today we started the day with a 4 hour tour of San Francisco. While this tour was interesting in and of itself, it was also a learning experience. We were watching our instructors apply what we had learned in class the previous two days. We were also becoming familiar with the orientation of the city, its history, and its character. After lunch on Pier 39, it was our turn to take the microphone. We were called to the front of the bus sporadically and had to give as much commentary on the sights we passed as we could remember. We had our instructors giving us prompts along the way, but it really was amazing how much we all remembered from the morning tour and could apply to our own commentary. In fact, I was more comfortable with this exercise than I had been with the previous two. I think this had to do with being in the front of the motorcoach and not staring directly at 25+ people. I had to focus on what was out the window and having those visual cues really helped me overcome any fear I may have had about speaking publicly. Once again I was glad that ITMI had thrown us into this exercise because it taught me to trust my instincts and that I really do retain more information than I had initially given myself credit for. With more time to research and practice, I’m confident that I could put together commentary for any place in the world this job may take me.
Tomorrow it’s back to the classroom for more theory…
Day 4: People and Situational Handling; Day To Day Problems & Skill Training
Today was all about human psychology (transactional analysis) and specifically on why people choose to take group tours. In this class we focused on what communication tools we need to have as tour directors to first understand the behavior of our guests, and then to interact with them appropriately. Our training included learning problem solving techniques, recognizing internal/external factors affecting group behavior, enhancing group communication, dealing with typical day to day problems and conflict resolution, and using motivational tools. It was another long day of classroom work, but knowing how to handle people and situations is such a crucial part of being a good tour director that I found real value in this class. What I really took away from this day at ITMI was that while tour directing is a balancing act between the technical aspects of running a tour (organizing accommodation, transportation, meals, etc…) and about relating to your guests (being attentive, showing enthusiasm for the trip, etc…); that balance is not 50/50. What I mean to say is that people will almost always forgive you if something goes wrong at a restaurant or they have to wait to get into their rooms (as long you work hard to remedy those situations), but you will only get this forgiveness if the guests first feel as though the tour director cares about them and can relate to them. A tour director may be the most organized person in the world, but if they don’t make their guests feel as though they care about them, that won’t matter. The tour director’s mood affects the mood of the tour group, so projecting a positive disposition is really the number one role of the tour director.
Day 5: Field Workshop & Written Exam; Receptive & Incentive Tour Operations
Today we took a trip to the San Francisco airport to meet with Homeland Security. Here an officer talked to us about the importance of all travelers being honest with the border patrol staff and being prepared to re-enter the United States. The officer stressed how important it is to declare all goods you obtain in another country and to not try and sneak anything past customs. As a tour director, we can help re-enforce this by talking to our guests about their purchases abroad. A great tip was to provide our guests with a sheet of paper at the beginning of the tour so they can keep track of any purchases they make along the way. By keeping track of their purchases the guests will already have an itemized list when they are filling out the customs form on the flight home. It is also important that tour directors keep up-to-date on any changes in the law, for example, the value of good that can be brought into the US tax free. We also went over airport procedures such as meet and greets, handling luggage, motorcoach pick-up and drop-off, and check-in procedures. I’m sure I will be spending a lot of time at the airport soon, so any tips on making my time there (with or without a group in tow) is valuable.
When we returned to the classroom we took our first written exam on San Francisco (which I think went well), and then spent a couple of hours discussing the receptive and incentive tour operations. These were not initially career paths I wanted to explore (and I’m still not sure they are for me at this stage in my life), but they do offer some positive opportunities for me to consider in the future.
Day 6: Resume Workshop
Today we met individually with our instructors to go over our resumes and to have professional photographs taken. I really appreciate that ITMI is providing us with guidance about putting together a professional resume so that when we leave here we are ready to apply for jobs. I also liked being able to sit and meet with our instructors 1-on-1 for a short time.
Day 7: Field Workshop; Level 1 Evaluations
Today was the last day of level 1 of the ITMI course. Our final exam was to, once again, give a city tour of San Francisco. I had the Golden Gate Park section of the tour and while I had to add in a bit of ‘filler’ material due to the traffic around the park I was happy with my performance. Each time I have had to get on the microphone it has become easier and more enjoyable. Afterwords we had evaluations with our instructors and I was relieved to get positive feedback about my performance thus far. In fact, I was told to continue to push myself since I was doing so well with the level 1 material. I just hope I can continue to improve and that I can push myself to get the most out of this experience.
The second half of the day was spent in Sonoma where we had lunch and then some free time to walk around and have a tasting of the local wine. It was a beautiful day in California and I really enjoyed spending some time outside the city.
Tomorrow we begin level 2 which will focus more on the tour directing side of this industry as opposed to the tour guide side that we have spent the last week on. Tour directing is the aspect of this industry that I am most excited about and what I plan to pursue once this course is completed.