Whether you are a newly qualified guide with a couple of months’ worth of experience under your belt, or a seasoned pro; let’s face it – we sometimes need the obvious pointed out to change or improve.

As we have mentioned before, the hospitality industry is a very competitive one. This does not solely apply to the lodge, but also to guides as individuals. The industry is also a very small one; staying on top of your game is very important in order to be recognised for bigger and better things.

So here they are, from years of cumulative experience (good and bad), my top tips for upping your guiding ‘game’:

Tip 1:
 Enthusiasm is one of the most important traits in a guide’s arsenal. Someone very influential in my own guiding career, many moons ago, pointed out that if you don’t show enthusiasm for the smaller things, you can’t expect your guests to be excited about it either. This applies especially when viewing or explaining the non-Big game, when big game may be scarce.

Many years ago, I was on a vehicle with a guide who hardly blinked an eyelid when he found a leopard. His immediate response was “oh, we see these almost every day”. This stuck with me because I could visibly see the guest’s excitement turn to mediocre acknowledgement. The guide didn’t think it was special, so they didn’t either.

Tip 2:
Love what you do! Remember that most people have to pay for what you experience every day, don’t take it for granted. When you stop loving what you do, it’s time to move on!
Tip 3:
If there was one thing I would do if I had to restart my career, it would be to take a moment to keep a record of all the special sightings that I have had over the years. Anything from big game sightings and interesting interactions, right through to the scarcer animals, such as aardvark, African wild cats etc.
This is a great way to reflect back on your experiences years down the line and remind yourself why you got into this career on those tough days. You also never know when that information may come in handy – whether it’s for blogs, writing a book or additional information for new qualifications…
Tip 4:
Invest in a decent pair of binoculars and take them with you on every activity! I’m not saying buy a pair that is going to put you into debt for the rest of your life…. some mid-range binoculars are more than adequate for your day-to-day needs as a guide. However, having the right equipment with you, allows you to see what’s going on before a guest has to interpret for you. As an added bonus, you look professional & well prepared and impresses your guests at the same time! When looking at binoculars, don’t consider anything less than 8x magnification, although I prefer 10x myself. One thing you definitely need to look at, is a properly sealed housing – this will not only keep water out on those rainy days, but will also keep dust out on the not-so-rainy days. A sturdy construction also means they can handle a decent amount of bumps and falls before they get damaged. If in the event that your binoculars do get damaged, the warranty definitely comes in handy (better brands typically have longer warranties). Most decent binoculars will come with a free servicing option as well, have them serviced every year or two to keep them going! Binoculars are not only used to magnify objects that are far away, but if turned around and held close to an object, it works as a magnifying glass as well, great for flowers and insects.
Tip 5:
Go outside and learn as much as you can! Whether it’s by joining other guides when they go on drives or walks, or simply exploring by yourself. The key here is to have an inquisitive mind, and when you see something that you are unfamiliar with, take a photo it, make some notes and look it up later! Also, ever underestimate what you can learn from a tracker! They have often spent their whole lives observing the bush and have a wealth of knowledge & practical skills from a totally different perspective. Knowledge is power! Invest in knowledge, spend time doing research and invest in a good selection of books, and actually spend time reading them. As you grow in experience, you will notice that your field of interest will change over the years, explore these interests as far as possible, this will only make you a more knowledgeable guide! Which leads onto my next point….
Tip 6:
Don’t feel embarrassed if you do not know everything! That is one of the things I enjoy the most about working in the bush – you never stop learning if you are open to learning. Just this past week alone, I have learnt a new wildflower and an insect I had never seen before. Remain humble and down to earth, we’re all human.

Aside from the massive range of field guides and textbooks, Facebook has many nature-orientated groups where you can question anything, if you are really stuck, from trees and insects through to birds and behaviour and you are bound to have one or more expert opinions (whilst keeping in mind that not everyone on Facebook is an expert…..).

Tip 7:
Always have a pen and paper/notebook close by! This is especially helpful if you have a memory like mine! When hearing something interesting or if you have to follow up with a guest on something you couldn’t ID, make a note and research it later.
Pocket sized notebooks are also very handy for keeping guest information nearby. For example, to make notes of guests names & room numbers before they arrive, or, for the real 5* service – any preferences they might have at the dinner table or on sundowners. You will certainly make a good impression when you remember their favourite drink on drive or how they take their coffee – without them having to ask.
Tip 8:
Technology can be very helpful, if it’s the right time and place for it! Generally, from my experience – guests come to the bush to escape technology, so it’s probably wise to keep these devices hidden away on drive, unless of course it’s used to demonstrate a bird call, or show a guest what an animal looked like which they might have missed. In this case, I am still old school and prefer to use a book! This all depends on the lodge’s preferences (as well as your own). Definitely do not sit on your phone at any point whilst guests are around.
Tip 9:
Read your guest’s personality & needs as best as possible! Before, during and after the drive. Interact with them, speak to them individually if possible. Decide whether they would enjoy getting involved or prefer to observe – are they introverts or extroverts? Are they getting bored with your 10-minute talk about the mating behavior of dung beetles or are they enjoying it? Are  they birders or big 5 chasers?

The list can go on…. Find out about specific interests, and cater for them. Some guests also come to Africa for a true African experience, and want the drive to be bumpy and full of branches to avoid, others come to relax and enjoy a smooth ride….. Of course, it is impossible to keep everyone happy all the time and you will get a grumpy guest or two over your career, but I guarantee that paying attention to what your guests are like and what they want, will not only make their experience better, but will also make your career more rewarding.

One particular guest who has stuck with me over the last 10 odd years, was a quiet American lady who had sold her house and most of her belongings to take one last holiday. Sadly, this lady had stage 4 cancer, but it was her dream to see African Elephants in the wild before she passed away. Had I not taken the time to speak with her, I would have never known this… her dream could have never been realised and her financial sacrifice for nothing. I made it my mission to find her the best elephant sighting possible and arranged with the lodge to take her out on a private drive – just myself, my tracker and my guest.

We found those Ellies and she cried – to be honest, I think we all shed a tear. Taking a simple moment to care had not only changed her life, but mine too.

Charles Delport Head Trainer (Guiding Division)

www.nightjar.co.za