During the week of November 18-22 I had the good fortune to attend the International Galapagos Tour Operators Association’s Five Star Guiding in Five Days course at the Charles Darwin Research Station in Puerto Ayora. The course was led by Sam Ham, who is a renowned guide training expert, and Tom O’Brien, a highly experienced and knowledgeable guide from Lindblad Expeditions.
IGTOA sponsored the course in an effort to bring some well-recognized best practices to Galapagos guiding and raise the degree of conservation-oriented guiding among the National Park guides. I attended as a representative of IGTOA (I’m on the Board).
It was an energizing week, in which Sam and Tom led a practical and at the same time inspiring course focused upon “thematic interpretation” in guiding. Sam has conducted a similar course in dozens of countries around the world, to all levels of guides, and it doesn’t take long to understand why he has been in high demand for decades. His enthusiasm, range of experience, knowledge, and ability to teach are truly impressive. Tom was also highly informed and experienced in the practice of thematic guiding, and had many real world examples from guiding and directing tours with Lindblad to draw upon to illustrate his points. It was a dynamic and engaging team to watch in action.
One of the principal and often-repeated themes for the Galapagos training was conservation: emphasizing the unique and extraordinarily fragile nature of the Galapagos, and discussing how guides have a unique opportunity to help convert travelers into ambassadors for conservation of the area. Practical training was given on how not just to explain various bits of information related to the flora and fauna, but to help travelers more deeply appreciate the uniqueness and magnificence of the Galapagos and take a personal interest in it. Case studies were presented that demonstrated concrete and effective things guides can do to help encourage travelers to make donations to local conservation projects.
I had the chance to speak with many guides and National Park officials about their impressions, and it seemed to be a very well-received course. The guides were very receptive to the idea of thematic guiding and encouraging travelers to get involved in conservation.
Also discussed was the possibility of doing a follow-up “Training of Trainers” course, where some of the most qualified guides could learn how to do this type of training themselves, and then give it to all of the 450 to 500 National Park guides during the periodic National Park Training Courses. The potential seems great for seeing this idea to fruition, and we hope to be involved in making it happen. It’s an exciting initiative that IGTOA has undertaken that has the potential to significantly raise both the quality of guiding in the Galapagos and the amount of money that travelers donate to conservation projects during and after their travels, helping to maintain this unique and special place for future generations.