Here at Selous Safari Company we never forget that tourists - our guests - are the lifeblood of our industry; and realizing their dreams, desires and expectations is our business. We therefore naturally place the highest priority and investment on training for our guides, and this training is currently underway at Selous Safari Company’s beach lodge, Ras Kutani. The aim is for a fun-filled learning experience, and so, to deliver this, we chose the beach as our classroom!
Only one of our guides has ever visited Ras Kutani (and that was 15 years ago). For others it was their first chance to dip a toe in the Indian Ocean. Not only is it therefore an inspiring place for our guides to learn but it also completes the picture for them about where many of our guests will have come on from, or be going to.
When I took our guides, all “seasoned bushmen”, down to the beach, in some cases for the first time, their facial expressions were incredible to see. ‘Wow, look at this water and the waves!’; ‘No way am I going in there!’. Gentlemen who will happily face down an elephant in warning charge genuinely challenging themselves in an alien environment. By the second day I had everyone in the sea…yes, some only half a metre deep but that was fine. Eventually everyone was comfortable enough to stand in the water up to waist deep and swim around a little. To see their sheer delight with the waves lapping around them was so memorable; and it mirrors the sense of wonder we hope for from our guests as they experience the bush, often for the first time.
Back in the ‘classroom’ the focus is on furthering their understanding on looking after and communicating effectively with our guests, along with sessions addressing astronomy and star-gazing, advanced bush skills, vehicle skills and environmental sensitivity. This course is conducted over 12 days and is designed to be an inspiring and interactive learning experience: encouraging the individual to break out of his comfort zone and be free to express himself. It also includes teamwork sessions to encourage, and see the benefit of, teamwork and to observe natural leaders coming to the fore.
The customer care skills encompass everything from cultural etiquette and conversational dexterity to presentation skills training. We want our guides to come away as experts in how to impart their brilliant knowledge and enthusiasm for the bush to people from differing backgrounds and experience levels (novice to experienced safari-goer). All our guests should come away captivated and inspired by their safari experiences, and our guides are critical to this.
Our commitment to training is also evident in the fact that we recently made the decision to incorporate the FGASA (Field Guides Association of Southern Africa) curriculum into its guide training in 2014, which I run as a qualified FGASA trainer and Assessor. The aim is for all our guides to obtain the FGASA Nature Guide qualification via a 12- month rigorous training programme. FGASA is a commitment to excellence which is unequalled in the guiding world. Its integration within our training approach is all part of ensuring an SSC guide is second to none.By ensuring we have the best guides in the business, we hope to achieve unparalleled safari experiences for our valued guests.
Certainly, the 14 guides in Ras Kutani this week will return to the bush informed and enlightened by the raft of learning they have experienced; and refreshed and reinvigorated by the warm breeze of the Indian Ocean. As for me, providing the right environment to stimulate and inspire my guides is key to effective learning, and to witness their wonderful reactions to the sea tells me I have provided this, and really motivates me to continue training guides.