I toured Turkey from Dec 17 to 26, 2013 on a packaged tour. Packaged tours tend to be quite boring as tourist sleep while the coach passes various towns and villages as the Singaporean tour leader would not have comments nor knowledge of the places passed by.
However, this tour to Turkey was unusually fun as the Turkish tour guide, Mr Serkam could connect with the Singaporeans and gave comments on the cities passed such that one Malay mother with a 26-year-old career daughter who is still single told me that she had "no time to sleep during the journey."
Here are the best practices of Mr Serkam
1. Greeting the tourists every morning in their languages - Malay, Chinese and other foreign languages.
2. Diction. Use of a microphone and speak clearly in English.
3. Making eye contact with the tourists is important to him. Towards the end of the travel, our Singaporean tour leader slipped and hurt his knee and was sitting down on the front of the coach, obstructing his eye contact with the back of the coach. After enqniring about his injury, the Singaporean tour leader sat down on the aisle to ease his pain. He politely asked him to walk to the back so that Mr Serkam could see the tourists.
4. Getting up to point out various characteristics of towns and villages. For example, heavily polluted industrial area in Turkey where people are not expected to live past 65 years of age. A corporate logo of Noah's Ark on the side of a wall belonging to a corporation. Taxi drivers being ex-criminals and not to be honked at. The coporate SASA logo of the richest man in Turkey, Salt Lake's dimensions much bigger than the State of Singapore. This was why the travellers had no time to doze off for long periods of time as for other packaged tours led by Singaporean tour laaders.
5. Informing the travellers that the whole journey was 3,000 miles.
6. Recap the places visit at the last day. This seemed to be appreciated by Mr On who mentioned this to others. Mr On is the "vocal minority" who filled up the tour feedback forms for his Hokkien group
of 14 senior citizens.
7. Cracking numerous jokes at the expense of his Singaporean tour leader who did not mind.
Two videos of his jokes is uploaded. Some tour guides can't joke as it is not part of their personality and so the tour is serious and the travellers just sleep. No person can sleep when he cracks relevant jokes.
8. Connecting with the travellers by applying "organic olive oil" personally to moisturise their hands at the start of each day's journey. The other coach's tour guide did it once only. This daily contact with the travellers put them in a good frame of mind. So his optional tours are highly subscribed to as compared to the other coach. However, in the other coach, the large proportion of travellers were senior citizens with at least 14 of them being Hokkien speaking friends including Mr On. Mr On and myself were allotted to the first coach where our Turkish guide was not cracking jokes as that was not his character to do so.
It so happened that Mr On and I decided to pay $55 for the optional tours. We had to join the other coach led by Mr Serkam as there were around 8/35 opting for such tours. The others in the 2nd coach not opting for the tours came over to take our seats. As explained by our Singaporean tour leader, there were two coaches and so optional tours could be conducted. If there was one coach, there needed to be 100% opting in or no optional tours as in previous single-coach packaged deals.
"$55 is worth it," Mr On kept telling anyone who will listen to how he got a fun journey with Mr Serkam. He is 63 years old and has travelled much in his retirement years. He commented on one China Tour where the Chinese tour guide would not speak to Singaporeans if they didn't patronise the souvenier stalls. One had told me that he would not be able to make it up the high wall of a place. So he bad-mouthed this Singaporean travel agency.
He was the type who would share his views. He told us to claim back the over-charging of $35 in airport tax by our tour company. He had done so before the trip. It is not right for the tour company to keep quiet as airport tax is not part of the packaged tour cost. On returning home, I discovered that he was correct and the company agreed to give back the excessive paid. It is surprising to me as I trust this travel agency and did not query when asked for payment of the airport taxes.
9. Communicating well with travellers is not easy as it is part of the DNA of a service provider. There are doctors with excellent bedside manners and there are others who can't please the clients no matter how he or she tries.
10. "The other tour guide is old and therefore tired," Mr On was frank in his perception of the oldies. There will be such comments from a group of travellers. Such comments can influence the silent majority. In this first coach, the tour guide with 20 years of experience did his best, in my opinion. It would be out of his character to joke and he had no "clown" in the Singaporean tour leader who was only one instead of two for two coaches. This gives the impression that our company is trying to make more money by not providing one tour leader per coach of over 35 people. So, the one Singaporean tour leader in the first 3 days was absent as he decided to stay one day in one coach. Later, he decided to spend half a day in each coach and that would be better than being absent for the whole day.
From Day 3-10, Mr On and I had opted for the 4 optional tours and so was in the 2nd coach of Mr Serkam. We did not opt for the 5th optional tour - air balloon led by Mr Serkam but he had quite a good number. There was the optional Bosphorous River Cruise which Mr On and I subscribed to
and had another 8 of the Hokkien group from Coach 1 deciding to join.
11. Optional tours provide additional income for the tour guides. By getting the travellers in a right frame of mind to buy the tours, Mr Serkam was very successful in getting a coach full, not an easy task with previous tour leaders of single coaches.
One successful strategy used and encountered by me in a European tour was to thrown in another "free tour" if the whole coach agreed to the optional tour or letting the Singaporean tourists know that they would just be loitering in the shopping mall if they don't opt 100% for such tours. The optional tours permit the guide to earn some income as many are free lancers but some guides just can't sell the optiional tours. Some can do it as they are able to earn the trust and get the traveller in the buying frame of mind by communications. Life is unfair if the service provider's personality is such that he or she is not able to connect to close sales.
12. Providing statistics to tourists. Mr On asked the other coach friends whether the guide mentioned about the dimensions of the Salt Lake. He said Mr Serkam said it was of dimensions that are bigger than the State of Singapore.
13. Language barrier. Also Mr Serkam had better English diction but Mr Serkam had studied in the US for one year, in my talk to him.
14. Stereotypes of the old being tired and not energetic. Unfortunately this stereotype of the worn out oldie is quite common. Mr Serkam is in his late 30s and is deemed energetic.
15, Telling personal life stories. This can be difficult for some tour guides but those who do it, get some attention. The average people like gossips of lifestyles of the tour guides too. So, gigolo jokes from Mr Serkam about his Singapore counterpart, Sebastian, being a busy "gigolo", caused much laughter in the coach. I had a short video clip on this joking laughter in one of the 3 videos posted below.
14. Be proactive. Mr Serkam chartered the whole boat for the Bosphorous River Cruise and personally pointed out the various interesting aspects of the European side and the Asian side of the River. This is better than the usual taped recording of Boat Cruises on the River Seine in Paris.
3 videos to illustrate what I mean about being an excellent tour guide: