I sat at a workers meeting in January and heard this phrase and it just stayed with me. Leaders. are.tour.guides.not.travel.agents.

A travel agent as defined by Webster is a person who provides travel and tourism related services to the public on behalf of suppliers such as activities, airlines, car rentals, cruise lines, hotels, railways, travel insurance, and package tours.

A tour guide on the other hand is as defined by Webster as a person employed to show tourist around a place and tourist is someone who is visiting a place for pleasure.

They have the expertise to source deals and ensure your travel plans are safe and secure and your itinerary well put together for the journey. He/She essentially dots the i’s and crosses the t’s for the travel aspect of your trip. The only thing is they remain on ground. Travel agents remain at base and are not with you on the journey/trip.

Some have organised the trip a hundred times but never been to your destination. They understand the ground work required to get you to destination but have no feel or experience of where you’re headed.

Travel agents cannot, based on their job description share experiences of the destination except they operate from out of scope or share personal experiences.

Your tour guide on the other hand is with you for the long haul. They are there to guide, show, tell, lead from experience and showcase the nooks and crannies of your destination.

They share the good and bad of the location and keep you abreast on the best way to maximize your trip.

I was opportuned to have hiked up Kilimanjaro with a group of awesome women in 2016 and the tour guides were “in it” with us. At some point we just put one foot in front of the other in line with their stride. They were with us as we smiled through the rainforest vegetation taking pictures and being all excited about hiking up nature’s signature of Africa’s peak.

They were also on hand when the desert monsoon stretch of the mountain took its toll on us as we chanted and were weather-beaten! Tour guides interpret and explain cultural and historic facts, myths and everything in between.

Travel agents just tell you to look out for the famous landmarks or tourist attraction. Tour guides become co-adventurers technically with area specific qualification and experience. They have mostly taken a number of people down the path severally and have a number of battles scars and badges of honour.

One definition of tour guide states that “they reveal hidden treasures and provide connections”

So if you were to assess yourself this month, would you be classified as a tour-guide leader or a travel agent leader?

Would it matter to you if you never got to the destination with your people stride after stride?

Might it be worth anything on the leadership barometer if you were rated a tour guide-leader?

If you cared enough to shift the needle in this area, what might be required?

  1. Be Authentic – no blowing your way past this….Tour guides have local content and context. Knowledge with experience is critical.
  2. Courage as a leader – Walk the talk and do what you say. Travel Agents can stay with you for a day or a decade but they never go on the trip with you.
  3. Be “here” or “go home” – make your leadership space count with passion! Tour guide leaders are grounded, do their homework and balance technical skills with a healthy dose of a good attitude! – No one is enthused by a thumb-sucking tour guide!

As you travel through life remember that leaders are tour guides not travel agents!

As published in Businessday Newspaper – 13 March 2018: 


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