We welcome guest contributor Rob Johnston to the AT Soapbox. He is the chair of Guiding Organisations Australia, which represents around 450 hard-working guides across Australia. Here, he tackles the growing problem in Australia of unqualified tour guides, and the bad impression they give to international visitors.
“Is Your Guide Qualified?”

That challenging motto was adopted by the World Federation of Tourist Guide Associations at its Biennial Convention in Bali last January for the next two-year period. It’s directed at the travellers who are clients of a huge variety of tourist experiences around the world.

On a coach tour in the UK you would expect a Blue Guide; in Egypt you would be in the very capable hands of a member of the 9000-strong Egyptian Tour Guide Association; in Malaysia it’s mandatory to be taken on tour by a licensed guide who has studied for his tour guide badge for maybe two years.

In Australia, anyone, with no training whatsoever (other than perhaps a Coach Drivers’ Licence) can be designated as the person to show off the wonderfully varied range of tourism features and experiences of our huge country.

That we only have about 80 accredited guides is a measure of the overwhelming belief that anyone can be a guide – who needs a badge?!

Hundreds of our very valuable visitors go away from Australia (or even from one state or another) with a very poor impression of what should have been a memorable experience. We have endless anecdotes that prove this beyond doubt and only a few of these get to the tourism authorities while the dissatisfied travellers go home to parade their bad impression to their peers.

The challenge is to persuade our industry that the tour guide, usually as the first and last local the visitor encounters, has to be an enthusiastic, knowledgeable, informative and interesting communicator to leave the best impression of our wonderful country.

Guiding Organisations Australia (GOA), the fully paid-up Australian representative to the World Federation, has eight member organisations representing about 450 individual professional guides; Institute of Australian Tourist Guides (mainly in NSW), Professional Tour Guides Association of Australia (Victoria), South Australia Tour Guides Association and Tour Guides WA have state-based memberships while Eco-Tourism Australia Ltd, Interpretation Australia Association, Savannah Guides Ltd and International Association of Tour Managers (Pacific Region) have guiding members operating in a number of states and territories.

GOA has successfully sought and received grants from the Federal government to establish the umbrella organisation and then to develop and implement a reasonably rigorous guide accreditation program. With a minimally paid Secretariat and the good offices of representatives of the member organisations giving freely of their time, we are working very hard to sell the benefits of the quality control inherent in an accreditation framework both to the guides themselves and the operators who (may) employ them. The basis of the accreditation program is a Code of Practice that outlaws all of the activities that unscrupulous guides have perpetrated on unsuspecting visitors – especially overseas travellers.

The accredited guide has to have either a tour guide certificate with a minimum of tour guide experience, or a well documented and referenced up-to-date portfolio of tours conducted over a minimum period. A current First Aid Certificate and Public Liability Insurance round out the requirements.

That we only have about 80 accredited guides is a measure of the overwhelming belief that anyone can be a guide – who needs a badge?!

For information about GOA and accreditation, head to www.goa.org.au

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