The motor industry 30 years ago saw “bakkies” as commercial vehicles used by industry. There were a few station wagon derivatives around and Botswana and Namibia ( then South West Africa ) were favourite destinations. The “bakkie” segment was small and industry pundits did not believe it would grow.
Then came the introduction of 4×4 double cabs and station wagons and the segment saw unprecedented growth as more and more people embraced the outdoor lifestyle. The vehicle became the enabler allowing for a variety of leisure activities. Accessory sales took off with the introduction of many Australian and American brands and chains of fitment centres. Tourism boomed both domestically and across our borders. Trails and routes open up and a wide variety of publications were launched catering to the industry. A new industry began and insurance products such as ours were developed to accommodate changing needs.See more at www.ccic.co.za .
As relations improved with other African countries people took time to travel further even driving to countries like Kenya and Tanzania. Many manufacturers offered training to new owners who wanted to learn more about their vehicles and embrace the opportunities offered.
Then a new industry was born, that of the 4×4 tour guide. Many people want the comfort of travelling in a group with other vehicles and a knowledgeable tour guide. Whilst there are various qualifications available it’s an unregulated industry and I have heard a few nightmare stories of”chancers” out there. If you have been in the business for some time you can have an assessment done known as an R.P.L or Recognition of Prior Learning. This is fairly complicated as it requires you to put a portfolio together that is not older than 5 years.
Generally, it’s a hard life as you have to be at the beck and call of your clients and often work hard behind the scenes while they relax. Many guides offer back to back tours in the areas that they specialise in.
Good operators however have a dedicated client base who give them repeated support. These clients even pitch in and assist on tours and around the campsite, what a pleasure.
But let’s go back to what you should look for in a tour guide if you are thinking of going this route. Remember there are various categories of guides such as nature, culture, history etc. All of whom can only operate in the provinces where they are registered.
As we are looking at 4×4 related tourism we need to look at the “Overlanding guide”.Including what to expect in terms of professionalism.
It is a long list but you are trusting your guide to take everyone safely to a destination and back without harm to yourselves or your vehicle.
So a high level of competence is required, it’s not simply about the uniform, baseball cap and an arm full of bracelets. It’s not about sitting around the campfire with a Scotch telling “ stories”.It’s about being a dedicated professional. People are spending money on a guided safari and as such, they have high expectations. It’s a privileged occupation that allows you to spend time in nature with like-minded people. So where do we start? I favour a guide who always starts a tour with a get-together as opposed to simply meeting at a spot and starting. This allows for people to meet, get to know each other and compare notes. A good guide will also supply you with a checklist that details the route, stopovers as well as all requirements. If it is a self-catering trip meal planners should also be provided. Then there is the attitude, that even in the face of adversity, your guide will be positive. He or she will also know which are the best border crossings and all the protocols involved. They should understand diversity and group dynamics as well as recognise potential problems. Your guide is with you all the time, they will protect you, teach you, tell stories and wash the dishes. I have been on trips where guides have even hired local experts to assist and impart knowledge. That was impressive.
Let’s not even mention mechanical and medical aptitude, that goes without saying. Yet strangely enough many of the tours that I was part of always included a doctor or medical professional as part of the client base. Indeed a bonus. Then there are passions and passion to share knowledge and experience. Safety is key especially if you are walking in the big 5 territories. Your guide has to look after the group. Knowledge of the principles of photography helps, be that technical or even knowing good locations and lighting conditions. Remember you are looking to raise the bar from ordinary to extraordinary! And lastly, honesty, don’t go with a guide who “wings” it, rather expect an honest answer if they are unsure of things. And upfront if they don’t ask for dietary preferences and medical conditions as well as advising you as to insurance requirements, don’t waste your time. Over the last 25 years, I have done, short trips, trails and even longer experiences. I have made mistakes and have enhanced people’s lives. We have travelled across borders as well as locally. I have taken small and large groups. Yet do not consider myself to be a guide. I still have a lot to learn. But have been to some amazing places. Happy travels.