First, a little on my educational background.
You may or may not know this about me, Colby Gardner, owner of Gardner Tours, but I got my degrees in health & kinesiology and education. In short, those are diplomas to become a coach and teacher, and that was an area I thrived in. But more than anything, I wanted to connect with people in something that I loved and invite them into those joys.
Fast forward twelve years and now I am connecting with people in something else that I love, it just so happens to be as a tour guide! And if there’s one thing I know, it’s that everything sustainable we do is, or should be, based on relationship. And as a side-note, I believe that nothing good comes without trust in those relationships. That is where my model and my favorites begin.
Without further adieu, here are five of my favorite things about being a tour guide!
1. Organization and Logistics
I can’t tell you how much I nerd out on this, but for good reason, might I suggest. The way I look at it, I operate a hospitality company that specializes in tourism, and I know that if we are hospitable in all relationships, organized, and our logistics are set up properly, it will allow us to deliver the highest quality hospitality and experience to our travelers.
Organization and logistics are not just numbers, information, and reservations to me. They are so much more since they are built on relationships, relationships that we invest in with the united idea of building better business. Built on trust with our travelers in mind, which is key, these relationships contribute to top-quality organization and logistics.
Then, after the well-rounded relationships, I consider the numbers, information, and reservations. For example, our documents detailing each tour, from the documents that our travelers immediately receive after booking, all the way to our guide documents. Those documents are detailed and well thought out to maximize quality time in view of hospitality and experience. A good number of our guides have even told us, “Wow, I have worked for many tour companies, but none of them have been this well organized and detailed. We have never received this much attention and resources.” We take that as a compliment and that it means we’re doing something right!
Well organized and setup tours are things that allow our travelers to fully relax and enjoy themselves. For example, we served a family from Moscow, Russia not long ago and the wife and daughter told me, “Colby, you have no idea how much this means to us; dad never relaxes and enjoys himself on holiday like this. We believe that it has everything to do with you and the way you do everything. He’s not having to worry about a thing, he enjoys you, and he is truly relaxed and enjoying himself as we’ve never seen. This is so nice.”
As you can see, organization and logistics might not be the most fun part of being a tour guide, but I always think that if done well, it will allow for a greater experience for all of our travelers! And to me, that’s not only of great importance as a tour guide but as the owner of the company too. Anything honorable to make our tours top-notch, I will do it.
2. Showing Off My Favorite Places & Experiences
You know as well as I do that no matter how well-traveled you are, Google, YouTube, or travel guides simply can’t replace a great tour guide. Beginning with that in mind, this might not come as a surprise to you, but gosh, showing off my favorite places and experiences is such a blast! And it’s so much more worth it for my travelers because it creates memories through highly valued personal interaction based on pre-built relationships. Our tours focus on delivering high-class hospitality via up-close and personal cultural exposure, unforgettable entertainment, and the most delightful culinary experiences, therefore I know that introducing folks to my favorite places and experiences is one great key to the success of our model.
Let’s be honest for a second, why would I want to take you to a place that I don’t think is amazing myself? And yes, there are a few “checklist items” that we don’t expose our travelers to simply for the fact that it’s not worth it or it’s not up to our standard. Those items are usually hyper-commercialized and don’t offer the high-quality personal touch that we desire our travelers to receive on our tours. However, if it’s something that could be worth it, I work to establish new necessary relationships or build on my current relationships in that area to create our own experience that caters to how we like to deliver. It’s always satisfying to give an experience that no one else offers and to have my travelers fall head-over-heels in love with it. For example, we have created a one-of-a-kind “Cuban Coffee Experience” on a farm that quickly became a favorite of our travelers. We have even had some of them request to cancel the afternoon’s activities just so they could stay in that place and simply enjoy themselves as long as they wanted. As a tour guide, this makes my heart thump.
If off the beaten path is what you want, then it’s what you’ll get! That’s something any great guide can give you and what I greatly enjoy revealing to my travelers. The unknown or less-known places always have a reason why they are that way, and sometimes it’s just a lack of exposure, but when I find a restaurant, BnB, experience or even personality that is exactly what needs to be known (usually because it’s too good to be hidden or hoarded), I will do everything to ensure that my travelers experience it. And at the same time, I always extend myself to help those people and places succeed at almost any cost.
3. Epic Storytelling
Growing up in a family of storytellers, I can’t tell you how many times I have been on the edge of my seat. When my family gathers, you can bet that there are always a few epic stories to be told. Usually, they come from my grandpa, but we have all picked up the art of storytelling over the years, and everyone seems to enjoy the means behind it and the laughter before it. The perfectly timed pause, engaging questions, tuned tones and expressions, and the proper amount of words as tailored to your audience play the most important role in storytelling. That is something I love to give to my travelers, and I have found that it truly draws them in and opens a destination to my travelers like no video or travel book could. Perhaps my favorite stories aren’t the historical notes that tug at your heart, but the stories of the people right in front of my travelers. Those are the ones that are most important to me, the stories that still have yet to be completed; the stories that I can personally invite my travelers into.
However, it’s not such an easy formula. I have learned that to tell the proper stories and draw my travelers in, I must be well prepared. I’ve got to be read-up and ready to present the facts and folklore to provoke their senses and breathe a little bit more life into their tour. To do that, I read about as much as I can on my destinations, watch as many documentaries as I can find, ask as many questions as I can when interacting with the locals, and I listen and observe. Listening and observing might be the most important and enjoyable because these real interactions give me the best feel for what’s happening and how the past has affected their present and quite possibly their future. I listen and observe, then I tell that story mixed with the additional relevant information that I have learned.
Like I mentioned earlier, knowing the value of storytelling in my own life and how people gravitate towards the best stories, I thrive on telling any and every story of a country that will provide the most authentic and touching experience of my travelers’ destination, and most importantly, that includes the stories of those they encounter every day while on their tours.
4. Inviting Travelers Into My Relationships & Experiences
As you can see, our tours are much more than head-scratching history, relaxing beaches, and vibrant culture. If you’ve read this far, you can see how I believe that healthy relationships should be at the center of any good business model or worker’s values. That is what I love walking my travelers into. It’s solid, yet always changing, thus I can always invite my travelers into the fresh and well-tended relationships that I have already built. This brings not only a newness to myself as a guide but also to our travelers. That being said, I know that I could have repeat travelers to the same destinations and each time always be a fresh experience, even if they repeat a few things on their itinerary. I can also say the same about the experiences that we provide since I am always working to improve each and add new options. This to ensure that we continue to grow in quality, thus in the hearts of our travelers.
Take for example our partners in business. These are people we work with who provide services on our tours like BnB owners, restaurant owners, chauffeurs, guides, and so on. I don’t simply choose to work with someone that I have met once and thought was an amazing person. After I have watched, waited, and built trust with them by seeing who they are over time, I then approach them about serving our travelers with them. This process is quicker with some rather than others, but I always want to ensure that they truly love people, and are not simply in love with what they can get from their job. I also look for a history of generosity, a business or person who enjoys giving selflessly and makes every person in front of them their priority, especially if it’s not a tourist. Lastly, I partner with businesses and people that I feel my travelers would genuinely enjoy being around, a place or person much more than a photo opportunity. These partners may offer charisma that leaves my travelers talking about them for the rest of their tour or they may provide simply a humble and one-of-a-kind interactive service that just can’t go unnoticed. Those are the relationships and experiences that I love introducing my travelers to, and I truly believe that my travelers can’t authentically encounter a destination without them.
5. Connecting & Staying Connected
Ah, we have come to what might be my favorite part of being a tour guide, just for the fact that it’s enjoyable and can be ongoing. I see it as pretty simple really. When I encounter new people in my life, I observe, genuinely engage, establish connection, and seek to build trust as they give me the grounds. I feel that gives any relationship a great platform to stand on and continue. First, I look at my relationships within the destinations that I work in. I have so many opportunities to connect with locals, therefore I do everything I can to take those opportunities with great wisdom. Some of those people become mere acquaintances, others become great friends. And if I’m lucky, I get to work with a handful of them. Those are the core people of Gardner Tours and the folks that I stay connected with as often as possible. One of my favorite ways to connect and remain connected with our guides and partners is by taking a genuine interest in them and what they care about. This is often what gets each conversation started and builds the most trust. And in that is where I get to invest in their lives and the lives of their families. And let’s be honest, besides honoring our every relational move, being generous in our business dealings is also more than important.
For example, I can remember after our biggest Cuba Tour in 2019, I paid the other two guides that served with me and we went our separate ways. I didn’t think anything of it until I saw one of them a few weeks later. As a background to this, we pay our guides very honorably in contrast to average salaries in Cuba. This guide came to crying, thanking me over and over for what I had done. I had no idea what he was talking about until he told me that it was about his pay from guiding the tour. He was crying, explaining that he could finally buy his children new clothes and finish the bathroom in his home, something that he and his wife had been trying to complete for years. This is not a bragging matter, but an honor to be able to connect with people like him and be a hidden part of his family’s lives. That thrills me to no end.
Then I have my travelers, my dear travelers. It’s always such a joy to organize your tours, show off my favorite places and experiences to you, tell a handful of great stories, and invite you into the relationships that I have built over the years. What fills my cup the most is getting to connect with you on a personal level. I get to learn about you, your families, your hopes and dreams, the places you’ve been, the lives you’ve lived, and if all goes well hopefully I get to stay connected with you. I can’t tell you how many of my travelers that I speak to daily. Sometimes it’s random FaceTime calls, sometimes it’s a postcard in the mail, but above all, the treasured memories via relationships mean the most to me.
At the end of it all, I hope to have genuine friends all around the world that I have truly connected with and get to continue connecting with until the day I die.