Customer service is at the core of giving tours and guests an innate power to leave a bad review, or withhold a tip from a guide. Additionally, there’s often pressure from tour operators to ‘do whatever it takes’ to get that 5-star review.
Women tour guides in many cultures carry an additional layer of pressure when there’s an expectation to be warm, accommodating, and nurturing. This can be challenging to navigate, making it difficult for female tour guides to set boundaries when a guest, vendor, or colleague makes them uncomfortable.
It’s unfortunately common for female tour guides to feel unsupported in navigating these difficult situations. While not often brought up, many guides I’ve spoken with one-on-one have the same stories: The solo-guest that made the tour feel like a date, being flirted with by a guest and then subjected to the anger of their partner, unwanted advances from a vendor, there’s more but I digress…
These situations shouldn’t–and cannot–be the reality, as a travel professional you can support and empower your female guides with a few simple actions. Start here:
1. Initiate and actualize company protocol
1. Define for your team what is acceptable and what is not
As obvious as it sounds, you need to let your team know that it is NOT ok for any of them to be made uncomfortable by a guest, vendor, or fellow employee. Be specific and have a clear plan for your guides to follow (see next step).
Everyone will draw their boundaries differently so the statement could be something along the lines of, “We will not tolerate any abuse of our guides in any way. If someone is making you uncomfortable, then it is inappropriate behavior.”
While this isn’t an article on sexual harassment specifically, you’ll also want to be aware of your local laws as they are different in each country.
2. Create a simple emergency plan
When your guide is feeling uncomfortable, they should know exactly what to do. The plan should be short and realistic for a guide to action.
Don’t be scared of being strict with the consequences. In this exercise, your guides are your guests so focus on what will make them feel cared for. Remember that this is for extreme situations and rarely will guides go through all the steps.
Every company will have a different plan depending on your team, but it could be something like:
3. Run regular training sessions for your guides.
Your guides should feel confident with each step of your plan. “Letting the guest know that their behavior is not acceptable” is not something that will come easily for all guides. They will need ideas, scripts, and practice.
Role-playing is a fantastic training technique to help your guides try out different solutions to see what works best for them, you can have guides come up with different situations that might come up (making them ‘hypothetical’ is a great way for guides to anonymously share things that have happened to them) and brainstorm different solutions. What works for one guide might not work for another.
For example, if the bad behavior escalates to a point where the guide needs to kick a guest off the tour (after trying several methods to diffuse the situation), there might be different strategies for how to do that. One guide might have no issue stopping the tour. However, another guide might feel more comfortable telling the guest that they’ve suddenly become sick and can no longer continue the tour. It’s helpful for guides to practice, outlaid, different solutions to see what works for them and to commit it to muscle memory so it isn’t as scary in the moment.
2. Make a Safe Space Policy
Simply put, a Safe Space Policy defines exactly what behavior is untolerated. You should have two slightly different versions: An external version for guests (which can live on your website, your T&Cs linking to it) and an internal one for guides.
The Policy can state publicly that you are committed to your tours, and company, being a space where everyone feels comfortable and included.
You can see an example of a Safe Space Policy here (the NYC bookshop which inspired the idea for company Safe Space Policies).
3. Facilitate female-led conversation
Are there women in positions of power on your team? You’ll want your female team members to weigh in throughout these processes, though it can be harder for them to feel comfortable sharing when there’s a male manager leading the project.
If you’re a small team of one, you could reach out to fellow solopreneurs who are female. You can pool resources and have training and conversations for both of your teams together. Or maybe you have a guide who already stands out as a team leader and could be involved in facilitating.
Another excellent practice is to provide a space for your female guides, away from managers, to share their stories. A simple way to do this in a way that doesn’t exclude anyone is to organize optional social hang-outs or happy hours for your team with different themes (bonus: This is great for team building in general). One month you could have a ‘foodie-themed’ hang-out at a local food truck park, the next month a get-together at a museum, and the next month a ‘female-power-happy-hour’ at a bar. It’s great for your female guides to all be together in a casual setting as this is where these conversations are had.
Supporting women tour leaders takes intentional thought, but it’s imperative to create safe spaces for women to pursue their passions. The safer women feel, the more likely they are to be guides for your business; the more women you have guiding your tours, the better experience your travelers will have, seeing a destination through a woman’s eyes offers a unique perspective.
Reminder: This is an initial guide, but more needs to be done. Start now, don’t wait.