Lionello DelPiccolo, unsplash, tour guide, walking

Tourist guides: Too many? Too few? Not good enough?

Look, it’s simple: the law requires anyone who works as a guide to be properly trained and registered and blah, blah, blah… But do we have enough guides? And are they good enough?

The Tourism Act of 2014 (pdf, 700 kB) defines a tourist guide is “any person registered as such under section 50 and who for reward accompanies any person who travels within or visits any place within the Republic and who furnishes such person with information or comments.”

So whether you’re a site guide showing paying guests around your back yard, or you’re a national guide who accompanies billionaires on all-inclusive, three-week-long, sea-to-shining-sea safaris around the country – you have to comply.

And there’s a lot of complying to do: the Act is one thing – but you also have the Regulations in Respect of Tourist Guides, which “were published under the repealed Tourism Act 72 of 1993, but remain in force under the Tourism Act 3 of 2014, until repealed or replaced (See item 7 of Schedule 1 to Act 3 of 2014).”

(And no. They haven’t been repealed or replaced.)

Yet we have too many guides. And many of them are bad.

According to Jolene du Plessis of Alive! PTL – which has been promoting community tourism development for more than twenty-one years, and which is one of the accredited guide training providers (Word doc, 125 kB) listed on the Western Cape Government’s site (yes, you have to go through an accredited trainer): we’ve got simply too many of ‘em.

And many of them aren’t ready for the job.

“As a country, we’re training far too many guides, and not all of the students actually become guides,” she said.

The problem: well-meaning agencies (government and otherwise) sponsor guide training in the hope of creating jobs – and they select the wrong people to go on the courses in the first place.

“I used to be laissez-faire about this: I thought almost anyone could be a guide.

“But in the past three years I’ve guided forty-two tours myself, just to see how it actually works.

“You have to be incredibly patient, you’ve got to be able to think on your feet, and you have to have a very deep knowledge of the country.

“So the superficial stuff that we’re doing in training, and that’s prescribed by CATHSSETA (The Culture, Arts, Tourism, Hospitality and Sport Sector Education and Training Authority) just doesn’t cut it.

“I don’t think a guide can go out there after a one week, two week course.

“In order to become a guide, you need a fairly large knowledge of your subject – but you also have to have lived.

“There’s no way that you can expect a youngster of twenty to be able to understand the depth of our cultures, the variety, and what South Africa is all about.

“It’s incredibly difficult even for me to answer some of the questions I get, and to do it in perspective.

“There’s no balance if you haven’t lived, if you haven’t got enough experience…

“And then of course you’ve got to love people…”

Support

But if so many of our qualified guides aren’t up to scratch, shouldn’t we have a support system that would help them improve?

Joleen said that she (and many others) have been working on a solution – but that the National Department of Tourism (NDT) is blocking the path.

“We have endless problems with this – we’re trying to start an institute for the professionalisation of the country’s tourist guides, a body that would check up on them, give refresher courses, and do normal CPD (Continuous Professional Education and Development).”

But as with all such things, it can’t be government run: it needs to be independent – and it needs to be accredited by SAQA (the South African Qualifications Authority).

“It’s all done,” said Joleen. “The constitution is there, all the checks and balances are there – but NDT refuses to give us the letter of recommendation that SAQA needs.”

  • So what do you think? Have we too many guides in South Africa? Too few? Are we training them properly? Should we introduce a minimum age requirement for them? And – if you work for the Department of Tourism – can you help Joleen and her colleagues to expedite the process of creating a professional body for them? Please share your thoughts with the world in the space below!