Elevator Speech 2016 – Qwynne Lackey – Ecotourism Guide Training: What Makes t Effective?

Something that has come into many things of the heart. I have a heart, you have a heart, and despite what social media tells us nowadays, even most politicians have a heart. Well, for ecotourism– (audience laughs) Well, for ecotourism, an environmentally and culturally-responsible form of tourism, that heart is the eco-tour guide. Guides play a very important role. They educate guests, keep them safe and make sure they have an enjoyable experience. They also play a key role in minimizing the negative environmental impact of tourism. However, there is very little research outlining what type of training best prepared guides to play all of these roles. This past summer, I took on that challenge. I traveled to South Africa to research EcoTraining, one of the oldest and most reputable guide training programs on the continent. While I was there, I had the opportunity to go through a guide training course, seeing first-hand how guides learn how to handle everything from angry elephants to grumpy guests. I also had the opportunity to conduct surveys with and interview trainers, current and former students. Through this qualitative and quantitative data, I was able to gain valuable insight into the training philosophy and methods adopted by EcoTraining as well as the outcomes and limitations of their program. I’d like to share a couple of those key findings with you. First of all, EcoTraining students do not spend their day sitting in lectures. They spend six to eight hours a day out in nature, using all of their senses including taste to learn their trade. Trust me, you’ll never forget why most animals do not eat silver cluster leaves after you’ve chewed on a couple. Another key characteristic of Ecotraining’s program are it’s instructors. During the course, students have up to 13 different instructors. Each one is different, but all are highly passionate and experienced guides. My instructors were so good at their job, they could make us as excited about species like lichen, or millipedes as they were about elephants and lions. Spending time with these instructors in this amazing environment has a huge impact on students. Most students reported having a stronger connection to nature, and a stronger desire to protect it after training. These impacts were also evident in the survey data. I found that once they become guides, most students practice environmentally-responsible behaviors most or all the time. I also found a statistically significant correlation between transformational leadership scores and their guiding competency scores, suggesting that once students succeed in training, they have a high potential to become leaders in the field, capable of influencing the environmental ethics of other guides and their tourists. So, based on my research, it’s clear that EcoTraining’s program produces competent guides that are motivated to put their heart into their career. This research is very important because if we can uncover how to create more training opportunities like this one, we will be able to keep the heart of this environmentally-responsible industry beating strong. Thank you. (audience clapping and cheering)

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