BY: Tasneem Johnson-Dollie
What makes field guide tours memorable? By starting with a passion for nature and following through with some flair, any field guide can create one of the best guided experiences on offer.
Can it really be that simple? Well, creating a memorable field guide tour starts with knowing what tourists are looking for, and keeping them entertained while filling them in on all things nature.
But it goes deeper than that.
When delivering a field guide tour, field guides are also expected to give tourists a safe experience in nature, and provide them with information that’s interesting and easy to understand.
While this can be tricky to perfect, you can follow these five steps to becoming one of the world’s best nature field guides.
Five steps to creating the best field guide tours
1) Use your passion to get educated
To be one of the best nature field guides, you’ll need to have the necessary education that comes from completing a top-notch field guide course.
While there are many Field Guide Association of Southern Africa (FGASA) accredited courses on offer by different organisations, Bushwise Field Guides is the top-rated FGASA provider.
This ups your chances of employment once you graduate. In fact, more than 90% of our graduates go on to land a job in the field-guiding sector after earning their entry-level FGASA Field Guide qualification.
And, with a FGASA field guiding and conservation careers internship, South African participants are guaranteed a job placement within six months of completing the course.
These types of providers offer courses where you’ll learn everything you need to know about entry-level field guiding and beyond. They also give you the opportunity to gain the confidence you need to work and problem-solve effectively in the field.
And, there are even ways to start your studies without having to travel right away.
Online field guide courses with an interactive spin make it easy to earn a field guiding qualification right now, and get a foot in the door to creating the best guided experiences.
And, setting yourself up with a solid theoretical foundation as a field guide will give you the insight and wealth of information you need to offer an engaging wildlife tour.
2) Gain relevant practical experience
Once you’re equipped with all the theory you need, it’s best to start practising your new-found skills in the types of environments that nature field guides work in.
This is the best way to figure out the practical skills you need, like how to track animals and find your way through the terrain to see the most interesting attractions. It’s also the perfect opportunity to pick up on the body-language and oration skills that will engage an audience without chasing away any wildlife. You can learn these skills first-hand from the seasoned field guides you’ll work with.
While you’re out in the field, think about your career as a field guide, and the types of field guide tours you’d like to offer.
If you’re keen on feathery wildlife, try to spot every bird in South African bird field guide books and keep a record of your experience. This way, you’ll have a better idea of how to find them in the future, and have real-life experience to share on wildlife tours.
Maybe, you’re more of a plant fundi? Well, you’ll need to get out there and experience the look and smell of these plants for yourself, so that you’ll know what you’re talking about when you tell their story.
And perhaps you picture yourself as a wildlife safari tour guide in the future?
Well, being able to grab your audience’s attention out in the savannah – with lions, leopards, rhinos, Cape buffaloes and elephants lurking close by – may seem simple. But, if you don’t gain experience in providing safe encounters, you’ll never get to the top of the field guiding game.
These first two steps will set you up to be a skillful provider of field guide tours, who knows what they’re doing in the field. But, creating the best field guide tours doesn’t stop there.
You’ll need to know how to tell the perfect story, and get your guests swept up in tales of South Africa’s wild spaces.
3) Make a connection
So you know what to say about nature, but do you know how to say it in a way that gets a group excited?
There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to getting this right, but a good starting point is getting to know your audience.
You can find out more by checking with the booking office whether your guests are colleagues from a corporate company, or a family on a vacation. By doing this, you’ll be one step ahead before you meet them face-to-face.
And once you meet up, take some time to chit-chat and get to know more about the group. This way they’ll start to feel like they’re in the company of a friend, and you’ll have a better idea of the types of personalities you’re looking to entertain.
But being charismatic doesn’t come easily to us all, and it doesn’t necessarily need to.
Beyond just your personality, you can make a connection with guests by telling them more about your journey as a field guide, and giving them a glimpse of what it’s like working in the wild – which is a tale in itself!
4) Hold their interest
Yes, your audience will often consist of people who are already excited about the topic of the field guide tour – be it the big five, or trees of South Africa!
But, if you can’t hold their interest, some might feel that the tour was less valuable.
While different types of nature field guides may speak about vastly different topics, the same rule applies when it comes to capturing your guests’ attention: keep it relevant.
For example, waffling on about medicinal plants on a wildlife safari tour might leave your guests feeling like they’ve missed out on interesting information about animals.
Similarly, going off on a tangent about trees may not tickle the fancy of tourists looking to learn more about the birds listed in South African bird field guides.
So, as a field guide, you need to be well-rounded.
You can practise your storytelling before setting off to make sure you’re not leaving any important information out. Be sure to consider these questions:
- What is this field guide tour about? Is it about wildlife, plants, or seeing the savannah at sunset?
- Why have these particular guests chosen to come on this field guide tour? What do they want to see or hear about?
- What scientific information is important to convey? (Think about what would engage the group).
- What real-life experience do I have as a field guide that adds value to this type of tour?
- Is any extra information necessary, and what type of information would this crowd appreciate?
This way, you’ll be able to focus on what keeps your audience engaged, and create the type of field guide tours that visitors can think back on fondly.
5) Provide a satisfying conclusion
Here’s where you may start to feel the pressure – ending the field guide tour with a bang. But don’t fret, we have some tips for you to follow here too.
Firstly, by the end of the tour you should have tied up all loose ends. Check in with yourself and the audience regularly so that you can be sure that:
- all of your guests are keeping up with the information
- guests’ questions are being acknowledged and answered without disrupting the flow of the field guide tour
- you refer back to the topic of the tour often, and show how new information is relevant to the topic
- you answer any hanging questions you may have introduced
- you establish awareness regarding conservation in a professional and engaging manner.
It helps to carry a well set-out checklist with you that you can glance at, to remind yourself of what you might have missed.
With all of these taken care of you can focus on making your finale unforgettable.
So what makes for a good ending when it comes to field guide tours?
Well, it’s good to help the guest relive the experience one last time.
Find your own way of highlighting the best parts of the trip, and threading them together in a way that piques your audience’s interest all over again.
Remind them about the lioness encounter, the temperamental elephant calf, or the towering ant hill that you spotted on the tour. Ask guests what they remember about that moment, and allow them to share their thoughts with one another.
Engage the group and ask about their favourite parts of the tour, and what they’d like to revisit the most.
Then, slip in a last-minute, astonishing fact about nature: one that will generate a few gasps, and have some guests sinking into silent contemplation. And you’ll know exactly what to say because you’ve got a wealth of field guide tour knowledge!
And once you’ve set the mood, bring the perfect field guide tour home with a call to action. Tell your group about practical ways that they can contribute to the well-being of nature – in the wild, or at home – and how they can get involved in the type of nature conservation that assists field guides in doing their work well.
This way, you won’t just be offering tourists the best guided experience, you’ll leave them feeling empowered to make an impact in nature, after experiencing one of the world’s best field guide tours.
Find out more about Bushwise’s online field guide course, and see how you can get closer to creating the world’s best field guide tours today.