Discova tour guides in Bali

Our Tour Guides: Now & the Future

May 25, 2023
Let’s talk tour guides.

We (as with other DMCs) have had a bumpy road after the pandemic as destinations struggle to get back to full capacity. On the one hand, we’ve faced some hurdles in meeting demand, and on the other, we’ve grown our guide talent pool and had great opportunities to train them in a targeted, more meaningful way.  

In this blog we take a look at some of the challenges we’ve faced in Japan and Vietnam specifically (and how we’re overcoming them), as well as the expansion of our successful Discova Guide Academy in Thailand and Cambodia. 

Japan: Tour guide numbers and challenges faced post-pandemic 

We asked Eileen Yee, our acting Country Manager for Japan, about our tour guide situation here.


What are some of the biggest challenges we’ve faced post-pandemic when it comes to our tour guide capacity in Japan?

“We saw an attrition of approximately 30% of the guide pool during the pandemic, hence this spring season it was a struggle to acquire new guides again. On top of that, these guides have been out of practice for 2.5 to 3 years, so it takes some time for them to get used to leading tours on-the-ground and also refine their commentaries once again.

Acquisition of manpower is a big challenge as many who worked in tourism have switched to other industries during the pandemic. This manpower crunch does not impact only Discova but also our suppliers, hotels, attractions, transportation, restaurants, etc. And this Sakura season there was a sharp increase in the number of visitors to Japan. With the manpower crunch, suppliers have had to limit their capacity and reject bookings. This adds an extra layer of complexity to our operations as we need to look for alternative products or services within a short span of time.”

Fushimi Inari Shrine
Two women dressed in beautiful traditional kimonos stroll through Kyoto's famous torri gate at the Fushimi Inari Shrine.

“For example, Sumo wrestler training sessions are cancelled last-minute as the wrestlers are tired out. Or there are long queues at immigration in Haneda causing customers to miss their connecting flights. With all these unexpected issues, we have to act quickly to make adjustments to transfers and offer alternatives. In some cases, when it is a shared tour/transfer, we are unable to move clients to alternative dates/times as other dates are full, resulting in disappointed clients.”  


What are our solutions to these challenges going forward? Have we made any progress currently in solving these issues? 

“Recruitment of manpower continues and we put more steam to hiring in Hanoi, which is much easier than in Japan.  The new staff here will help to support and relieve some of the operational tasks of the Japan team. We have also streamlined the structure and process to inject better efficiency and scalability. 

It’s been a tough process, but we’re getting there.” 

Vietnam: Tour guide pool and how we’ve met demand and supply upon reopening

We asked Bach Tran our Regional Manager for Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar & Global Network about our tour guide situation in Vietnam post-pandemic.


What are some of the biggest challenges we’ve faced post-pandemic when it comes to our tour guide capacity in Vietnam?

“One of the biggest challenges is the lack of good guides because some, especially the young and aspiring guides, have moved on to different industries for more stable income. Some senior guides have lost their edge and their knowledge and guiding skills have deteriorated and are not able to cope with work requirements. For example, several German-speaking guides have not been using their German skills and we have had to nurture them back, by taking them off larger group bookings and starting them off with FIT guests to ensure their language skills return to a level that’s good enough to guide groups. Finding and developing guides requires time, patience and luck in the face of limited numbers. A small number of remaining good guides are in high demand.”

Community development in Laos, Discova
Bach (right) with one of our amazing Discova Educational Travel tour guides, Houmphan Panyamany.

“In addition, lack of regular customers in destination and erratic supply and demand make it challenging for most guides to rely on guiding as fulltime job.

Broken supply chains also present daunting challenges to our guides. They have to ensure our customers have the most enjoyable holidays, but face a lack of experienced tourism staff for hotels, restaurants, inexperienced drivers, and inefficient airport luggage handling, just to name a few.

Last but not least, we’ve changed our destination management system and processes over the pandemic, and communication and coordination between office and guides have gone through a stiff learning curve.”

How may we have been (if at all) better prepared for this?

“It was sad that we had to let go of our fulltime contracted guides during the pandemic and every effort have been made to ensure our guides have decent severance packages. We have assisted them in accessing government unemployment benefits so they could have a decent head start with their lives after retrenchment. Some of them set up their own small business, (one started a bakery for example, and office team would order their lunch from them whenever they could).


Throughout the pandemic, we have kept our guides engaged through regular online training, establishing an emergency fund, and offering hardship loans to the guides in need who could re-pay their loans in installments in the future when work and income stabilises. We also organised regular small social gatherings and sporting events during the pandemic, such as running and cycling, to keep us all healthy and positive. [These initiatives were not just unique to Vietnam, but something Discova tried to implement where possible throughout our destinations during the pandemic].”

Discova Hoi An office
Recent positive developments in Vietnam post-pandemic include our Hoi An office opening, shared with Grasshopper Adventures. The location here is more accessible to our guides and convenient for day tours for customers. Featuring Loan Nguyen (left), Grasshopper Destination Coordinator, and Hung Van Cao, Grasshopper Bike Mechanic.

Prior to destination reopening, the guide pool was reviewed and consolidated with the aim to establish: sufficient number of guides needed, gender equity, critical destination reopening training, as well as how to ensure sufficient work assignments, income, and mutual commitment.  

With hindsight knowledge, there are few things we could have done differently to be better prepared in the future. Preparing our guides for what was to come at an earlier stage. But it was a learning curve for the entire travel industry. We have seen it with airports, airlines, hotels and many more. The hard part has been knowing when borders would open, when people would come back, and when we could start preparing our guides to return. The circumstances during and right after the pandemic were incredibly unpredictable, and we rose up to the challenge as best we could.” 


What are our solutions to these challenges going forward? Have we approached solving these issues? 

“Significant progress has been made as our guide quality has improved by leaps and bounds and we have a diversified guide pool in place.” 

We have: 

  • Provided both online and offline training as well as on-the-job training. 
  • Resumed fulltime contracted guides to cover our core customer needs.  
  • Offered benefits for top performing freelance guides to attract and retain talent. 
  • Further reviewed and consolidated our guide pool to better match with business needs, and provided intensive training and development plans for our preferred guides. 
  • Conducted regular meetings between our guides and office teams to identify what’s working, what’s not, and identify opportunities for improvement. This has resulted in product and supplier enhancements and better customer service. 
  • Reviewed our guide rewards and recognition to improve engagement and transparency.
Discova inspection trip in south Vietnam, with ANWB
Our tour leader Nguyen Bui Dinh Thuan collects Bastiaan Heselhaus, Product Manager for our partners ANWB, at the airport for the start of his inspection trip in south Vietnam.

In the past, we also used to source tour leaders for multiday groups from Hanoi and Saigon, as most of our groups start and finish in these cities. However, we’ve identified and brought on board upcoming tour leaders who are based in Central Vietnam and other cities in our group tour schedule, even if that may mean that we need to pay more for their return airfares back to their hometown once they have finished the programme in Hanoi or Saigon. The change has been well received by our guides and we have a strong and committed guide community as a result.” 

Our Discova Guide Academy expansion 

Amidst all the tour guide capacity challenges our teams in various destinations have overcome, we’ve also seen exciting progression with our Discova Guide Academy. Initiated in January 2020 in Indonesia, we are now expanding it to Thailand and eventually Cambodia. The Guide Academy has been successfully – and will continue to be – led by Phen Phoy.  

Discova Tour Guide Academy
Phen Phoy will continue to lead our Discova Guide Academy growth.

The Disova Guide Academy consists of:

  • Guide Experts: The Expert’s Training Program provides continuous education for Discova guides to support their personal and professional growth. These guides often help us support on-site training and practical experience for new entry recruits.
  • Guide Ambassadors: Our Local Guide Ambassador Programme invites candidates from marginalised, struggling communities to apply for an intensive 3-month training course with Discova. These guides are given the opportunity to be the very best representatives of their community and culture, and to advance their guide career and economic circumstances.
  • A Guide Community: Through social platforms and online groups, our guides from around the world stay connected and share their challenges, advice and niche expertise.

Phen has designed a thorough course for guides based on entry, bronze, silver, or gold levels – the level of each guide is determined by their years of experience and their NPS (Net Promoter Score) rating. Courses involve self-improvement for our guides, with classes covering skills ranging from storytelling techniques to First Aid, from ChildSafe training to leadership and management.   

Find out more about Phen and the success of the Guide Academy in Bali
We have had a huge success with our Guide Academy training programme in Bali, Indonesia. How are we expanding this to Thailand?

Phen: “We will follow the same curriculum modules and plan that we used in Bali, but adapted to the laws and guide licenses of Thailand, and eventually Cambodia.”

Discova Guide Academy
Discova tour guide Hulu Wayan was a graduate of our Guide Academy in Bali and still guides our tours today.

“Depending on how many applicants we receive [in Thailand], we aim to start training guide guide school graduates in July and have 10 new guides [Guide Ambassadors] starting with Discova in October this year.” 

How will the programme be delivered?  

“We will offer an intensive 3-month training programme to familiarise recent graduates with the Discova brand and our own guide expectations. These are delivered through face-to-face lessons, a virtual classroom, and on-site, practical training.”  

First Aid Training for tour guides
Discova and Grasshopper Adventures tour guides in Thailand recently underwent First Aid Training in Bangkok, Chiang Mai and Phuket.
What professional exposure will they get out of the programme?

Aside from the theoretical aspects and familiarisation with the Discova brand and standards, we will offer practical exposure. Guides will initially shadow senior guides on tours, and receive mentoring from these and our leadership team.


What are you most excited about for the Guide Academy here?

“The most exciting part about Guide Academy is having the opportunity to build a strong guide loyalty to the business and provide knowledge and skills to our guides, which will enhance their personal and professional growth,” said Phen. 


Want to find out more about our guides and how we ensure they meet your and your customers’ standards? Reach out!

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