Sunday, April 29, 2012

When Difficult Tourists Strike

This past week I attended a facilitation skills class that the state government offers for its employees that work with groups of people. It was a real good session and I came away with some great ideas and "tools" on how to improve my meetings and training sessions.

In one section of the day-long course we covered different types of participant personalities. Most of these dealt with how best to handle difficult individuals that one might face when working with groups in meeting or conference rooms. But, I couldn't help but remember that I have met a number of these types on historic tours. Fortunately, I have not encountered many of these in my present position, but I had a number of them when my main role was giving tours. And, of course, if you have taken many history-themed tours, you too have probably encountered some of these people.

"Arguer" was the first. In my past job giving public tours I remember running into this type of tourist several times. Almost everything the guide says is contradicted by this type of person. For some reason they feel the need to rebut the information the guide presents. Similarly, is the "know it all." These people want the guide and everyone else on the tour to realize they they know as much or more than the guide on just about any subject. And, too often, these people are combined into the equally aggravating "rambler" or "monopolizer." They know everything and they make sure that everyone knows it by monopolizing the tour time rather than letting the guide do his or her job. Unbelievably they seemingly know everything from how many pounds of cotton were produced in Mississippi in 1852 to the color of General Grant's great-grand niece's hair.

Then there is the "comedian." These are the adult class clowns of the world. Everything is a joke to them. Nothing is considered grave, sacred, hallowed or off limits to their puns. Sometimes I think the comedian acts this way because they don't want to be on the tour and they probably often feel like another bad tourist type; the "prisoner." More often though, prisoners are the family members of die-hard history enthusiasts. They stand off to the side, wander off, sigh a lot, text or talk on their cell phones and act generally miserable.

Equally frustrating to those already mentioned is the "latecomer." These are those people that get in on a tour about 10 or 15 minutes after it has started and after the guide has provided important context and set the stage for the tour. Too often they then proceed to ask lots of questions that were covered during the part of the tour they missed. Then there is the "introvert." These are especially exasperating to guides in very small groups of of say 1 or 2. When the guide tries to ask questions in attempt to make them think critically or engage in a conversation all they muster is a mumbled word or two.

Certainly not all tours have these type of people.  Most tours I have been on have been beneficial and educational experiences, and hopefully those I have given have been informative as well. But, when you run into a difficult personality either giving tour or as a tour group member just comes with the territory, and deal with them as tactfully and professionally as possible. Who knows, they just might leave having learned something new or look at an issue a different way.

1 comment:

  1. Tim, fascinating analysis of the types of visitors encoutered during programs and tours. The subject is only part of a successful outcome. Understanding the guest and providing quality customer service are also important to achieving success.