One of the secrets of great tours is to get your tour members actively involved in the day’s activities. Just sitting there on the coach listening to you or a step-on guide lecture them won’t do it. They can easily gaze out the window, think of other things or try to chat with their seat mate while you’re talking and tune you out.

My many years of teaching travel/tourism have taught me that a good teacher is not one who stands in front of the classroom talking AT the students but talking WITH the students – that is, interacting with them. Although I never took a course in classroom teaching techniques, I soon developed my own. They included walking around the room and stopping to interact with this one and that one as I moved around. It included having them work in twos, talking with each other and then reporting their findings to the classroom as a whole. It included their working in teams developing a scenario or itinerary.

The same techniques can be used, but modified, in tour groups. Here are five suggestions for starters:

  1. Include a visit to a place where tour members walk around and interact with locals. For instance, they could visit an orphanage, a church, a kindergarten, a hospital – and talk with the residents.
  2. Hand out a quiz for each tour member – something they can fill out before the visit or after the visit. You, as leader, can then collect them and guide an on-the-coach conversation of some of the salient issues raised in the quiz.
  3. Go to events where your tour participants don’t just observe how others do something, but rather do it themselves. Since I specialize in tours for women, I usually try to include something about food, cooking, recipes, etc. I have seen them attend demos of famous chefs but then go home and not be able to reproduce the recipe. Far better when I can arrange to take them to a venue where they not only observe the expert, but they also have the option of rolling up their sleeves and doing it themselves (under the supervisory eye, of course, of the chef).
  4. Give out handouts – something you prepared at home before embarking on the trip. Maps, terms pertinent to what they’re going to see, short historic tidbits – all can be included in your handout. It gives clients something to take home with them to show what they learned en route (but may not have been able to retain without the handout for referral later).
  5. Ask each member to write something – it can be a paragraph saying what they learned on the particular visit, or it could even be a silly little poem. Here’s one somebody wrote about me one day:

There once was a leader named Marty

Who thought she was quite a smarty

She served us wine and cheese

And other snacks to please

And our tour turned into a party!

Not literature for sure! But fun and a happy tour member.

I also sometimes have them run a game through the trip – be it a one-day excursion or a three-week tour. In the past a contest I ran when touring England wherein I had each tour member keep a list of British words versus their American counterpart… for example the British word “lorry” for the American word “truck.” The winner was a woman who came up with over 100 such words that differ between British English and American English.

I’m sure you’ll come up with some ideas of ways to liven up your tours. Let me hear what they are. I love to hear from my readers.

By Marty Sarby deSouto