Expecting the Unexpected

Tour directors like having problems to solve. They call such problems "job security." The reason a Tour Director (TD) has a job is that there may – no, almost certainly will – be problems to solve. If there were not, what need is there for a tour director?

The key skill, then, that a TD must develop, is the ability to expect the unexpected. And, of course, the more experience a TD has, the smaller becomes the list of the unexpected. What challenges await on the open road? In no particular order, they include bus breakdowns, sick or injured or missing or even dead passengers, weather, construction, natural disasters, driver issues, road closures, customs issues on international trips. Quite an appealing list, yes? It’s not likely a TD would have to handle all of these at the same time. What a tour that would be!

How does a TD prepare for the unexpected? First, it starts with knowing company policy and procedures for handling crises. Many tour operators provide a TD Survival Guide, full of information and emergency phone numbers, and it is usually a requirement that a TD have that handy on a trip. There actually is a procedure to follow if a passenger dies on a trip, and given the age of many tour passengers, that catastrophe is a real possibility.

Below the level of catastrophe, perhaps to the level of inconvenience, the TD should be thinking about possibilities. A bus breakdown could occur in a town, in which case one might walk across the street to acquire assistance. What if the breakdown is in the middle of a national park, or on a desert highway between here and there, in the cold or in the heat? What to do? Perhaps help is available by phone, perhaps by hitchhiking to the nearest town. How to entertain guests while waiting for rescue? That might be a good time to show the extra-wonderful DVD saved just for this possibility.

It’s not possible to anticipate every possible problem, though it is important to think through what could go wrong and develop possible solutions. What is important is to develop the confidence to address every problem pro-actively, to know what the company guidelines are for similar situations, to mitigate the problem so it least impacts the guests, and to trust one’s own ability to solve problems. Then they become challenges instead of problems, and they are a lot more fun to handle.


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