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PRACTICAL TRAINING ACTIVITIES IN FAVOUR OF QUALITY

FOR TRAVEL AGENTS AND TOUR GUIDES *


Lector univ. dr. Bradea Livia Otilia
Universitatea Babe Bolyai Cluj-Napoca
Facultatea de Litere
Departamentul de Limbi Strine Specializate
Formator: Tehnica ghiduluid de turism la
Centrul de Training pentru Turism (CTT) Cluj

*Textul de mai jos reprezint varianta n limba englez a temei dezvoltate n articolul anterior,
inclus n volumul Quality Assurance in Vocational Education and Training for Tourism,
CIHEAM Mediterranean Agronomic Institute of Chania (Grecia), 2014

Key words: travel agent, tour guide, skills, abilities, competence, organizer,
communicator, training methods, quality of vocational training

Introduction
Tourism is a complex socio-economic phenomenon, dynamic, with special
needs and human resource requirements, resulting from the scale and
consequences of today's world of travel and tourism. The development of tourism
involves integration in the tourism activity of well trained travel agents and
guides, of adequate tourism staff, increasingly diverse, that - together with other
thoroughly trained professionals - contribute to the successful completion of all
services and activities in tourism programmes.
The Tourism Training Centre (TTC) of the Faculty of Geography of
"Babes-Bolyai" University Cluj-Napoca has an open and dynamic concept
regarding the training and integration in the tourism activities, based on the best
practices of the European and international vocational training institutions. As
you know, the EU bodies have been campaigning for many years to stabilize a
"coherent framework of indicators and benchmarks" to be introduced in the
education and training systems of the member countries, in order to develop a
"European Area of lifelong learning" and for the "recognition and mobility of
qualifications".1
To raise the quality of training, TTC - inspired by the European concepts in
education and vocational training- is working with experts in tourism and travel
agents, to which intense exchanges, research and development of study materials
are added, with partners who have similar concerns from Italy, Turkey and
Greece. The ultimate goal is to launch on market a type of specialist in tourism
services with a comprehensive approach, who possesses multiple work
techniques used inside and outside the travel agency, a profile required for
training and promotion, assuming and successfuly completing the tourism
activities at home and abroad.

1
The basis is represented by the active "reference tools" of the European Commission, the EU Council , the
European Parliament and include measures and recommendations needed to be implemented at all levels of
education and training; eg. current document: Education and Training 2020- a strategic framework
document for the European cooperation in education and training.
Teaching premises
The stage of qualification in the profession is crucial in setting up the
professional profile of a travel agenttour guide, because it develops personal
abilities and availabilities with learners, it delivers specific professional
information , techniques and procedures absolutelly necessary in their
work,briefly- it models general and specific skills necessary in execising their
activity.
The double qualification agent- tour guide comes to fulfill a strong and
permanent need on the tourism market and it is also an opportunity and a chance
to access a job, that can not be ignored by those interested in and passionate
about the fascinating field of tourism and travel.
The travel agent with guiding skills may, if necessary, be entrusted to lead
local tour groups, and the guide qualified as a travel agent may perform the
specific tasks of an agent. When these two qualifications are not associated,
permutations are not possible. To promote employment in travel agencies the
double qualification has proved to be imperative and, obviously, it is an asset in
both careers. The areas of expertise are partly common, partly overlapping, but
the specific skills differentiate them and give them a precise contour.

As travel agents students are introduced to several fields, such as


management - document management, information management using
computer, transmission of documents; finance - financial statements, handling
of currency and credit cards, payment tracking, recovery of insurance policies;
marketing - direct marketing of tourism products, tourism market prospecting;
customer relations - conclusion of contracts with customers, valorization of
tourism products. It's about learning the technique of tourism activities -
working in an agency, identification of tourism destinations , design, promotion
and direct sale through retailers of the touristim products, also networking and
communication techniques, often, specific to each travel agency.
As a tour guide students mainly need knowledge and working skills to be
used outside the travel agency. It's about the knowledge and skills needed to
complete at high standards of quality and efficiency the tourism offer sold ( by
the agent in a travel agency); it is about how to manage relationships with
tourists and tourism providers and, ultimately, to provide the feed-back needed
to improve the tourism activities. In this case, the students are trained to acquire
procedures, the practice of working with tourists, to develop continuous
improvement strategies to widen their general knowledge and improve
communication skills.
In the following lines we will highlight especially our way of training the
tour guide line, the teaching methodology used in the Technique of the tour
guide course, that is part of a module with a double qualification travel agent
tour guide. Our experience has shown that to achieve a high quality in training,
desirable and expected on the labor market, particular emphasis should be placed
on practical activities, on work it self.

The formative framework


The Curriculum the training programme combines information
acquisition and the immediate development of applied skills and it was developed
based on the Occupational Standards (OS) for travel agent, tour guide, and the
specialization national tourism guide- tour operator. Note: Graduation
Certificate of the qualification agent, tour guide opens up the prospect of
training guides for all kinds of specialized tourism activities, depending on
options and market demand.2
The training offer based on occupational standards (OS) is valid both for
the trainer and the trainee because it is a specific tool stating: direction, target,
content, training methods, evaluation criteria and even self-check. Working on
the content of the ability units and the elements specific to each skill, the trainer
can develop and guide learning, participation in learning, so that he may become
a coach for the trainees and they may become active players in the understanding
process and performance of their professional work. The topic contents - ie the
amount of knowledge on a topic are combined with competency elements, that
give a coherent unit of general or specific competence required to be expressed
and exercised.

The overall objective of the training programme travel agent


tour guide
The overall objective of our program is to develop with our students the capacity
to acomplish specific activities as a travel agent and tour guide. In other words,
we would like to provide information, develop skills and attitudes applicable to
work situatious to improve quality and make their activity more efficient.

The identified benchmarks


Benchmarks describe our trainees skills and knowledge. After following
our training programme students should be able to perform the activities
described in the occupational standard - activities needs on the market and
similar at European and international level for these professions.
The OS describe the abilities and the elements that define them. The
trainer introduces the information and ensures the adequate development of
skills.
The format mabe be synthetized as follows: acquiring, aware use and
participating in. Any profession is based on:
competence = knowledge, information = "to know"
skills / abilities = execution capabilities, procedures, techniques,
working methods = "to make"

2
In the tourism activity in Romania, according to the legal regulations in force, three types of guides are
used: u local guide - assisting local tourism (resort, sightseeing, transfer, hotel); v National tour guide
touroperator - who provides travel support services for Romanian tourists, abroad as a tour leader or group
leader, and related activities for foreign tourists travelling in Romania; specialist guide - who provides
travel services for certain segments of tourism services, characterized by complexity, peculiarities, specific
technique and technologies (mountain, nautical, caving, diving, hunting, cruising, equestrian, escort,
transfer, adventure etc. (More correctly they should be called instructors or coaching guides).
attitudes / feelings = responsibility, loyalty, continuous learning,
character traits) = "professionalism"

These qualities are achieved through education, training and


specialization, exercise of specific practical activities and longlife learning. The
OS do not only provide the trainer with the framework but also with the methods
and procedures and working crietria as follows:
list of the skill requirements;
elements of competence
achievement criteria in terms of knowledge required;
achievement criteria in terms of practical skills required;
achievement criteria in terms of attitudes needed.

Competencies
As defined, competencies are structured sets of knowledge, skills and
attitudes acquired and developed through learning and practice. Another
definition: competencies are a "coherent set" of knowledge, skills and attitudes
usable and used in an occupational and social environment and in interpersonal
relationships.
Competencies enable persons to identify and solve problems in different
specific contexts and particular fields. The specialist literature cites a range of
abilities and availabilities of a competent person:3
apply specialized knowledge
use specific skills
analyze and take decisions
be creative
work with others as a team member
communicate effectively and efficiently
adapt to the specific work
deal with unexpected situations

We tell our students that after completing the training programmes for the
jobs that the Tourism Training Center is authorized to provide, they will be able
to have the specific professional skills for the occupation agent tour guide.
Our students already have the compulsory key skills acquired in earlier stages of
education and training.
For both positions the general competencies ar the same>
u teamwork;
v ensuring health and work safety rules and security against fire.
The professional skills required and the specific differences between them
have been suggested in a previous paragraph. However, for a new step, a
significant question arises.
3
Dup http://www.scriptmedia.ro/cncfpc/docs/sesiunea3/Ghid_elaborare_pr_form.pdf - Ghidul de utilizare
a standardelor ocupaionale de pregtire profesional n elaborarea programelor de formare profesional,
elaborat de CNFPA Consiliul Naional de Formare Profesional a Adulilor, Bucureti, 2004, pag. 4
Which are the core competencies in the set of objectives
mentioned for travel agent and tour guide?
The professional context means mainly actions, situations, statements,
information and decisions. To act properly, well informed, responsible, efficient
means ultimately, professionalism. How do we achieve that? This is a question
that from a formative perspective leads us to answer a few other questions.
What is expected from the course participants to be able to do Actions
at the end of training?
What are the situations in which graduates will perform the Situations
actions described?
What is the level of quality expected? Quality
What should our trainee know and understand in order to Knowledge
conduct business with competence? and
reasoning
The OS as a working tool help us prepare learning activities,
inspiring us in choosing the training methods.

*
The development of essential communication and information
skills in the double qualification travel agent tour guide, national
tour guide (tour operator) by practiacal activities.
I made several findings through observation and experience, and also a
focus group discussions with the course participants. To all these I would like to
add my almost ten year experience in training and I came to the following
assertions.
(1) Theoretical knowledge on the current tourism phenomenon is
relatively easy to digest and enrich. Students who come mostly from an academic
background - particularly those studying geography of tourism and tourism
economy,and also those who in one way or another are approaching tourism -
have a notional and conceptual framework already formed. They contribute
beneficial and stimulating to the atmosphere of the course.
(2) General knowledge, especially in the fields related to tourism -
history, geography, architecture, art, events and personalities etc. is incomplete,
difficult if not impossible to refresh and develop throughout the course. This need
would be transferred to individuals as a task and trainers will inform and develop
documentation strategies with their trainees, indicating them also the sources of
information.
(3) The vocational abilities specific to these professional positions
namely communication and relationships with customers, partners and
tourism providers - are parts of the professional profile that have to be developed
with priority during the period of education and vocational training. Both agent
and guide operate with information inform themselves, develop data
structures, provide tourists with information, negotiate, promote tourism
activities, destinations, offering tourism products in the country and abroad, etc..
Communication, interacting, capacity for dialogue and negotiation are
usually poor with our trainees at the begining of our courses and such skills are
also the most difficult to develop when it comes to building the professional
profile of travel agents or tour guides.

How did we proceed from a teaching perspective for improving the quality
of vocational training in case of the double qualification - travel agent tour
guide through practical activities?
The present paper reveals three types of practical training activities
developed and exerised with our trainees:
ucity tours in Cluj/other towns & cities;
vstudy tours in Romania/abroad;
other types of projects

u Types of city tours practiced


a) model city tour delivered by experienced guides and historians (eg. TTC
trainer Radu Ardevan);
b) theme city tours: ex. Baroque palaces of Cluj, Wandering to places of
worship, Medieval Cluj, Jewish Cluj delivered by volunteers, members of
"Cluj Guided Tours;
c) museum tours: The Ethnographical Museum, The National Art Museum
delivered by guides and specialists working in these institutions;
d) study city tour made by trainees in Romanian and English under the
supervision of TTC trainers (S. Irimiea & L. Bradea).
e) virtual city tours made by trainees, adapted to the peculiarities of the
tourists age, nationality, profession under the guidance of TTC
trainers. (R.Ardevan & L. Bradea);

We should like to mention that the city tour was preceded by thorough
information and communication exercises practiced in class. Given the apparent
difficulty to speak in public, due to inexperience, timidity or information gaps, we
conducted several hours of "story telling", asking the trainees to talk for a given
amount of time about: their town/city of origin, the most interesting trip they had
so far, a book read recently or how do they spend their lesisure time. With a few
exceptions, the outcomes were not so happy: they showed difficulty to choose a
topic, lack of consistency in exposure, shyness and even failure to be creative in
approaching the subject.
In the next stage we focused on asking students individually to give small
speeches and narratives about natural and man made sights and present them in
class in front of their mates. Then we went on with staging small city tours.
Trainees had first to understand the requirements of such a position before being
able to practice it.
The city tours proved to be formative exercises, welcome by our trainees,
proving some obvious virtues for students and trainers.

Conclusions to the city tours


They have highlighted:
the availability and calling for tourism professions;
the capacity / ability to provide appropriate, consistent, coherent and
correct information in public;
the opportunity to meet specialists in the field (historians, professional
guides, museum guides);
the opportunity to learn from different types of guides and compare their
personal styles;
the oportunity to practice observation and exercise emotional memory
regarding places and attractions;
the capitalization - at this stage of study - of knowledge, skills, effective
and qualitative working criteria, as developed in the courses.

Psychological and pedagogical observations


Such practices have developed with our students: enhancement of their
professional interest higher attendance of courses participation in discussions
more questions and answers creativity in seminars homogeneity in the
group.

Other types of practical activities: study tours based on an certain


itinerary in Romania and abroad; other types of projects in tourism.

Study tours
Study tours represent a culmination of our course, they consolidate the
knowledge acquired so far and are a major test, as well.
Students get individual tasks, do presentations of tourist attractions on the
route and build longlasting relationships with their colleagues and trainers.
Examples of study tours:
in Romania:
The Danube Gorges and Iron Gates
Maramures - historic country with exceptional people
Churches and Saxon villages in Transylvania;
abroad:
Vienna - contemporary rhythms in an imperial city,
Prague - the golden citylMontenegro a country across mountains and
waters.
Holland and Belgium the symphony of flowers in spring

The study tours preceed the final assesment and are a major exercise of
professionalization. Each student has the opportunity to present one or more
parts of the route with the most improtant sights and attractions.
We noticed that our trainees have gained:
self confidence and also professional momentum;
more commitment and demand towards colleagues and themselves;
the more daring ones with vocational availability gained respect and
fostered the capacities of the least daring ones to cover the specific needs of this
profession, especially the ability to communicate and relate correctly during
the activities;
trainees used the methods and working techniques learned for each stage of the
tourism activity - as mentioned in the OS - regarding the departure, the activities to be
carried out on the way, the sightseeing tours and the ending of the daily program;
they thoroughly documented themselves on history, geography,
economic and cultural specificity of the places visited, on traditions, customs and
personalities, made observations on the natural and cultural heritage.
The study tours have a strong educational and vocational impact on the
trainees.

We would like to report here the strong impression made in Maramures by


the wooden churches, monuments inscribed on UNESCO Heritage List. The
cultural and educational value of this trip- the region visited being one of the
most important tourist area of Romania- has inspired us for this year trip, an
itinerary of the Fortified Saxon Churches, such as Bierta, Viscri, Saschiz, Cri,
Mlncrav, impressive by their historical and architectural value. On this
occasion, in a few places, local guides met, hopefully our future guides, sharing
their experience, especially in their relations with Romanian and foreign tourists.

Production and presentation of tourism projects have been for


a long time a way of developing teaching materials for TTC. In small groups or
individually, students performed several documentary materials structured on
topics, themes, interests and needs such as:
tourist areas in Romania:
Maramures: history, traditions and customs, The Painted
Monasteries of Moldavia -a miracle of stability and Romanian
spirituality, Muntenia Vineyards and songs, The Transfgran
alpine road, Callings of Sighisoara the UNESCO medieval town,
Prahova Valley -in summer and winter, etc.. ]
cities and towns: Sibiu, Brasov, Medias, Bucharest, Craiova, Cluj-
Napoca, Timisoara, Arad, etc.. ]
Romanian caves: Caves and springs in Apuseni Mountains, the
Bears Cave, The Wifes Cave, Scrioara Glacier Cave, Ialomicioara
Cave, Meziad Cave etc.
The Danube Delta The Miracle of biodiversity
The Black Sea Coast The Call of Summer: sand, sea and
entertainment

These products made by our trainees remain with the Training Centre and
we use them as support materials when discussing topics with new trainees. We
will also use them to generate new materials for the new generations of students.
These products reflect the individual striving to improve knowledge and skills -
maybe not enough and certainly incomplete - with new elements that give shape
and stability. Written and unwritten rules, that have become widely respected
and expected, techniques and procedures have to be applied not only when we
remember, but always in each action, from A to Z.
*
The travel guide no matter where the works- is desirable to be a true
specialist in the field. There are forms of tourism in which the guide - as
organizer, group leader or guide - is an imperative presence, inevitable and
beneficial. The risk of being incompetent is high : it can lead to his failure and a
failure for his tourists, as well; it not only compromises such an action, but the
unpleasant impressions of tourists turn like a boomerang towards the
turoperator, spreading swifter than success. The tour guide is essentially an
organizer and communicator of information for the benefit of tourists. His
behavior, skills, the balance and harmony he creates in the group - all in
circumstances always hard to predict, sometimes difficult, frustrating or
challenging, put judgment and strength of character to test. Overall stands feeling
and attitude: love for the profession, for tourism and for tourists on one hand,
and responsibility - ethical, moral and social on the other hand - which are both
incumbent upon the position. In spite of providing a service through knowledge
and attitudes, the guide becomes a model: a model in exploring the unknown,
overcoming some difficulties - stress, fatigue, privations, risks; a model in the
interpretation and understanding of the history, geography, culture and art of a
community, a nation. However, the tour guide should be a model in defending,
protection and preservation of cultural and environmental values, a promoter of
a sustainable and beneficial tourism, a relaxed and attractive person.
Tourists - either as individuals or group expect from their guide
trustworthiness, kindness, generosity, fairness, accuracy, organizational
efficiency, quality and authentic information. He is the interface between
agencies and tourists, the lightning rod that reduces any tension or
dissatisfaction, errors or excesses of other tourists or tourist service partners.

I often do with my students an exercise and ask them a question: How


should a tour guide be and how should he not be? To find out their answers we
write on the board all the letters of the alphabet, then divide the board into two:
positive and negative traits. Participants are asked to find adjectives and adverbs
fit for the guide profile both for the positive and negative features. I arrived to the
conclusion that for each letter there are between 2-5 or even seven words that
"tell the truth" ... The guide should be: kind, clever, gracious, charismatic, brave,
cute, dynamic, smart, resourceful, informed, loyal, tireless, well mannered, a
model, orderly, timely, credible, radiant, strong and with a sense of humor,
mastering the situation, to sum up Homo universale. No comments!
Some other sometimes, we do an exercise seeking for similar professions.
And we often conclude that the guide is like a teacher, a class master teacher,
writer, director, conductor, etc.