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.
We asked Eileen Yee, our acting Country Manager for Japan, about our tour guide situation here.
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
We asked Bach Tran our Regional Manager for Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar & Global Network about our tour guide situation in Vietnam post-pandemic.
“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, some senior German-speaking guides have received poor feedback and were not allowed to lead demanding larger groups, or some good cycling guides have migrated the country. Finding and developing cycling guides requires time, patience and luck in the face of limited cycling guides. A small number of remaining good guides are in high demand and being approached by competitors.”
“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.”
“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].”
“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. Our Operations team could have been more proactive in checking group materialization rates and pax loading far in advance to avoid short notice cancellations. Guide salary benchmarking revisions and hiring of critical additional staff could have been done sooner. However, 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.”
“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.”
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.
The Disova Guide Academy consists of:
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.
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.”
“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.”
“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.”
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.
“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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