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A Behind-the-Scenes Look at Tour Manager Recruitment & Training

Anyone who has taken a group abroad using one of the many educational tour companies available today knows full well the vital role that a high quality tour manager plays in delivering a superior travel experience.  (For those that may be new to the educational travel scene, tour managers are the guides that expertly maneuver groups around their destination, remaining with them 24/7 and handling all logistics and most educational commentary from the moment the group lands until the final adios/au revoir).  While it’s true that a top-flight tour manager is born not made, at ACIS we’ve learned that there’s quite a bit of nurture to go along with that nature.  Here’s a sneak peek at how we find and train our tour managers, who we think are the best in the biz.

Tour Manager Recruitment

Each year we look to supplement our stable of veteran tour managers by adding the best and brightest of newcomers to the mix.  This process begins in the fall, when we begin to receive online applications.  Sometimes we post job announcements at universities’ career offices, but most of our applicants come to us through referrals, online searches or word of mouth from interested candidates who see our tour managers in action on the road.

Last fall we had 90 applicants for the role and after sifting through their qualifications, held either in person or Skype-based interviews with 38 of them.  Interviews are conducted by members of our Tour Manager Office in London as well as current tour managers who have recently lived and breathed the ACIS tour experience.

Dana Ptacinsky, Director of our Tour Manager Office, describes the key criteria we seek:  “We receive applications from extremely well-prepared and educated individuals who have an extensive academic background.  But between their application and their interview, it’s fairly easy to spot whether they are able to covey this wealth of information.  Are they engaging enough?  Do I switch off listening to them or do I hang on their every word?  Someone can tell you their favourite place in the world is the Louvre.  We want to know why and we don’t take `because it’s amazing’ as an answer.  Students will always ask WHY.  A trip is a long series of WHY’s after all!”

New Tour Manager Training

Once the interview process wrapped up in late December, we invited 21 finalists to attend our training program in February.  ACIS’ training regimen is a two-day course facilitated by expert tour managers and staff from both our London and Boston offices.  The weekend is a mixture of large group seminars, small group sessions, one-on-one talks and active participation from trainees who are put through their paces in delivering sample historical background and road commentary.  Imagine trying to put your own unique spin on the French Revolution or Pompeii to a group of veteran tour managers who have been there, done that!

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There’s no arguing, though, that the formula works.  At the end of the weekend, 15 of the 21 candidates were deemed ready to be assigned to trips in the spring and summer.  That means that only 16% of the original applicants make it through our screening process and get to take stewardship over a group.  This selectivity and training process resulted in our 2014 first-time tour managers receiving satisfaction ratings of 3.82 (on a 4 point scale), essentially equal with the 3.84 rating for all of tour managers so far this year.

Ongoing Training

While our newest tour managers receive the bulk of our training in a given year, we also provide multiple professional development opportunities for our veterans.  We have a dedicated tour manager website which contains a wealth of information about company policies, the latest destination information, etc.  Tour managers also have access to comprehensive briefings any time that they are venturing out to a destination they may not have visited in a while.  We also make a point to mix new and veteran tour managers on assignments such as a Global Conference or on a multi-bus group.  This is a great way for newer tour managers to learn first-hand from the pros, but also for the longstanding tour managers to see new perspectives on how to engage students with familiar material.

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Finally, our annual Tour Manager Meeting held in London each December is probably the best forum for tour managers to brainstorm, network and both gather and provide feedback on how we can make the next year’s tours even better.

As you can see, it’s no accident that our tour managers regularly receive rave reviews.   The goal is to make a tour manager’s job appear effortless as they guide your group through centuries of history while also knowing the perfect suggestion for where to buy a gelato or a pair of boots.  Every time we receive comments such as “James was a fabbity fab tour manager” from a gushing student (or teacher!), we feel justified that our investment in recruitment and training has paid off.

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