Take me to your Leader: How tour guides can make a trip

A guide can make or break a holiday. Mark MacKenzie reports on a scheme to reward the best

A good tour guide can turn a day's holiday excursion into the experience of a lifetime. A bad one can have you enquiring about the next flight home. Whether illuminating some dark corner of a medieval tapestry or recounting the mating habits of Africa's lilac-breasted roller, a competent, well-informed tour leader has the ability to both entertain and inspire.

Last week, the specialist travel magazine Wanderlust held an awards ceremony at the Royal Geographical Society in London to celebrate excellence in the guiding arena. The winners of the inaugural Paul Morrison Guide Award, named in honour of the magazine's late founder, were picked from a shortlist of 70 guides from around the world.

Nominated by readers, they represented a range of destinations and specialisations. The final result was a dead heat between one KC Bhuwan, a trekking guide based in the Annapurna region of Nepal, and Manda Chisanga, a safari guide from Zambia. Third place went to Martin Gray, a naturalist who offers tours of Antarctica and South Georgia.

There are, of course, as many types of guides as there are destinations to visit but, according to Lyn Hughes, Wanderlust's editor and a member of the judging panel, the basic attributes are broadly the same. "Local knowledge and communication are obviously key skills," says Hughes, "but what separates the great guides from the merely good ones is the ability to empathise, to understand when clients are tired or suffering from information overload. A lot of travel companies are simply happy with someone who speaks English."

Specialist guides, at least those in the developed world, tend to be certified by the appropriate governing bodies. But in those parts of the world where such organisations don't exist, Hughes believes consumers should trust to word-of-mouth: "A well-guided trek can be life-affirming, so word soon gets round."

Guiding in the UK is a well-regulated industry. Among the most highly qualified are the 1,500 Blue Badge guides operating under the Association of Professional Tourist Guides (APTG). "Our guides need to be informative and aware," says the APTG's Anna McKeown. "Getting 50 people to pay attention around Westminster Abbey or Windsor Castle is quite a skill."

Not paying attention to your guide can, in certain circumstances, have grave consequences. When you're on a safari, for example, it pays to pay attention. "Bush guides are supposed to be rigorously assessed but that's often not the reality," says Grant Hine, managing director of the Field Guides Association of Southern Africa (FGASA), a leading trainer of safari guides in sub-Saharan Africa. "FGASA guides train for up to one year, from geology to astronomy and everything in between. A well-qualified guide must be able to multi-task, particularly in an emergency."

In the search for some sort of international guiding consensus, FGASA is in the process of creating its own version of the Blue Badge, a qualification designed to marry bushcraft to expertise in local history and culture.

Hughes hopes the Wanderlust award will one day be recognised as a form of global standard, with shortlisted guides permitted to wear a specially designed logo, the guiding equivalent to a Michelin star.

And what of that perennial question: should you tip your guide and, if so, how much? "In less developed countries guides are very badly paid," says Hughes. "You should always tip but a great thing to do is leave behind unwanted items. When you go trekking in Nepal some of the porters haven't even got shoes. If you have a waterproof jacket you know you're not going to use again, it seems a shame to take it home and just put it in a cupboard."

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

Voices
The Sumatran tiger, endemic to the Indonesian island of Sumatra, is an endangered species
voicesJonathon Porritt: The wild tiger population is thought to have dropped by 97 per cent since 1900
Arts and Entertainment
Beast would strip to his underpants and take to the stage with a slogan scrawled on his bare chest whilst fans shouted “you fat bastard” at him
musicIndie music promoter was was a feature at Carter gigs
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
Story line: Susanoo slays the Yamata no Orochi serpent in the Japanese version of a myth dating back 40,000 years
arts + entsApplying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Performers dressed as Tunnocks chocolate teacakes, a renowned Scottish confectionary, perform during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Commonwealth Games at Celtic Park in Glasgow on July 23, 2014.
news
Life and Style
Popular plonk: Lambrusco is selling strong
Food + drinkNaff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
News
Gardai wait for the naked man, who had gone for a skinny dip in Belfast Lough
newsTwo skinny dippers threatened with inclusion on sex offenders’ register as naturists criminalised
News
Shake down: Michelle and Barack Obama bump knuckles before an election night rally in Minnesota in 2008, the 'Washington Post' called it 'the fist bump heard round the world'
newsThe pound, a.k.a. the dap, greatly improves hygiene
Arts and Entertainment
La Roux
music
Arts and Entertainment
Graham Fellows as John Shuttleworth
comedySean O'Grady joins Graham Fellows down his local Spar
News
people
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
News
Ross Burden pictured in 2002
people
News
Elisabeth Murdoch: The 44-year-old said she felt a responsibility to 'stand up and be counted’'
media... says Rupert Murdoch
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Extras
indybest
Sport
Arsenal signing Calum Chambers
sportGunners complete £16m transfer of Southampton youngster
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    C++ Software Engineer - Hounslow, West London - C++ - to £60K +

    £40000 - £60000 per annum + Pension, Healthcare : Deerfoot IT Resources Limite...

    VB.NET and C# developer (VB.NET,C#,ASP.NET)

    £30000 - £45000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: VB.NET a...

    Visitor Experience volunteer

    Unpaid voluntary role: Old Royal Naval College: To assist the Visitor Experien...

    Telesales Manager. Paddington, London

    £45-£55k OTE £75k : Charter Selection: Major London International Fashion and ...

    Day In a Page

    The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

    The air strikes were tragically real

    The children were playing in the street with toy guns
    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

    Britain as others see us

    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
    Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them altogether

    Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them

    Jonathon Porritt sounds the alarm
    How did our legends really begin?

    How did our legends really begin?

    Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
    Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
    A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

    A new Russian revolution

    Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
    Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
    Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

    Standing my ground

    If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
    Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

    Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

    The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
    The man who dared to go on holiday

    The man who dared to go on holiday

    New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

    For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
    The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

    The Guest List 2014

    Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
    Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

    Jokes on Hollywood

    With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on