Start with Why
As with anything we do when we started thinking about the Vivu Journeys guide school we asked ourselves a very simple question; why? It is such a simple word, but why is a great question with which to start anything. In fact, it is now the very first question we ask our guides on our guide school courses.
That was back in October and in the time since we have moved from vision to concept to reality and were able to operate a first round of guide school sessions before being rained off by Covid-19.
How to do it successfully
We were clear of why we wanted to do this – to allow us to have greater control over one of the most important aspects of our business, whilst having the ability to engage with our guides personally and invest time into building their career paths with us. What came next was the need to think about how to ensure it would be scalable and replicable across our operating destinations, but with a flexible blueprint that could be adapted regionally and that drew on our learnings and experience in Asia. We also recognised that our guides are the single and most important part of a guest’s journey with Vivu – our products, experiences, people – all come to life in the hands of our guides, and with those guides was an opportunity to benefit each and every community we set foot into.
Our guides needed to be connected – to us and to feel a part of the fabric of the Vivu Journeys family, something that can be difficult to achieve given the nature of guiding can be a somewhat dispersed and fragmented element of the travel industry. Key was to ensure our guides were fully immersed in our partners’ ethos and travel approach, and ensuring they know our partners just as well as we do. Connecting Vivu Journeys to our partners to our guides to our guests would drive the very best experiences. The ability to engage in person from day one with our new guides and to keep regular contact providing updates on product, operations and partner requirements would be invaluable to us.
We had other considerations too – we know from experience that stepping out into a career in tour guiding can be difficult for many reasons. Often the opportunities can be limited in Europe due to high cost and time expenditure involved in training. Asia carries the same challenge with the additional steep qualification requirements and access to English language classes can present a challenge. These roadblocks often prevent those with the perfect skills, passion and desire to move away from a career in tour guiding before they have even stepped out of the door. We wanted our guide school to address some of these issues and to give back to our communities through provisions for education and practical work experience to build stability, ambition, and a long and prosperous career with Vivu Journeys.
What to do?
With our understanding of why we were doing so in hand, we set about designing the concept and execution of the project. We looked at the landscape of each countries guiding framework, and the governance around access to training and career pathways. A lot of time was spent talking to existing guides and hearing how they had got to where they were and what had been the challenges and opportunities they had encountered. We learnt a lot about the destinations we operate in and particularly in Europe as our operations stepped into the region for the first time. The contrast in setup, regulation and operations vary hugely between from Asia to Europe so we had to be brave in adapting accordingly.
Our curriculum has been built on a foundation of our previous experience and the learnings discovered from our research, many opinions of guides, and moving back to the original question we asked at the outset – why? The guide school runs on four modules – an introduction to Vivu Journeys and our partners; guiding principles, health, safety & responsibilities; products and experiences; and an assessment period. It encompasses all of the objective requirements – legalities, compliance – but also the more subjective aspect of guiding. The softer skills like a sense of humour, flexibility, sensitivity and passion are all drawn upon and encouraged throughout the course. Our objective is clear. To empower guides to deliver consistently exceptional experiences every time.
Our intakes of guides are based on where we see the need to grow as we scale, both in terms of regions and language requirements, and will comprise of both experienced guides and those who are new to the profession. This provides us with an interesting hybrid of tried and tested experience and fresh, innovative thinking. It also allows us to provide tangible and achievable career paths for our newly trained guides, and with all of the operational support and stability, an experienced guide comes to expect.
A key outcome from the guide school has been several operational benefits, including the opportunity to achieve consistency and clarity across our global destinations. It has allowed us to build an experience with our guides that will be very similar no matter which continent a guest may travel with us. The ability to have a greater measure of control is crucial as we scale our business with a global footprint and greater oversight over all aspects of our operations – guides, drivers, hotels, restaurants, products, experiences – is a key metric in our business. We have drawn upon our previous experience within Asia to set our benchmark for hospitality excellence as we look to create and share similar heights of service across the globe.
Coincidentally this became prevalent the week after the first guide school took place. As we moved into March and the Covid-19 crisis hit the world this measure of control became obvious. We are now working with our partners to discuss how the travel landscape may look when the world opens its doors once more and what they and their guests will expect from us. Our guide school sees a newly created post-Covid-19 module as part of our curriculum so that we can ensure we are aligned with now not only each destination’s laws and governance, but also our partners’ requirements.
It is prompting us to look at things we have not had to consider before, such as how our guides greet our guests. That most fundamental interaction of a handshake may have to be postponed for a while. These are questions none of us has been asked before and we, along with our guides, are now working out the answers. Guides experience and knowledge are a critical part of this.
When circumstances allow, whenever that may be, the guide school will be back up and running in each of our destinations. Our CountryManagers will be travelling their regions, teaching, sharing and developing the skills needed to be a Vivu Journeys guide. Both experienced and new guides will be joining our guide school and team, setting up a newly found or reignited career path. Our destinations ready to be brought to life by the very best people.
As the world reopens its arms, we will be waiting to connect travellers to unique, real and local experiences once more.