Guiding lights

This is Margi again, settling in to life at the Colobus Trust and finding ways for my particular background and skills to be useful here. This week I’ve been involved in a workshop for Trust staff, looking at what the Colobus Trust offers visitors when they come on the ‘eco-tour’. The idea was to come up with some new ways of presenting the tour and engaging with visitors, based on work I’ve done with guided walk leaders in a UK National Park.

Eco-tours are an important source of income for the Trust. Back in 2007 they hosted over 1000 tours during the year. But the numbers plummeted in 2008 when tourism dried up as a result of the post-election political violence. It’s beginning very slowly to pick up again this year, but there’s still a long way to go, and there’s stiff competition from commercial tour operators offering safaris and boat trips – although what the Trust offers is an entirely different experience, of course.

Visitors come as couples, families or groups of friends, and get a very individual experience. The tour got a glowing write-up in a recent article in Kenya’s national Sunday newspaper, though some people are disappointed if they don’t actually see Colobus monkeys – Trust staff have to explain that the Colobus are wild animals and not predictable!

Anyway, in a competitive market it’s always worth making what’s good even better, and when I mentioned I’d done similar work in the UK, I was asked if I could share current ‘best practice’ ideas with the Colobus Trust team. Two members of staff, Mary and Esther, are the regular tour guides but most of the team can find themselves leading a tour if it gets busy or if visitors turn up without booking, so everyone participated in the workshop.

We looked first at what the tour was aiming to achieve – what does the Trust want visitors to learn, feel, and then actually do? Getting people to sign up as supporters and donors is obviously a key aim, but promoting responsible tourism is also important. Keeping in mind that people retain only a tiny fraction of the information they receive, but are more likely to remember the overall experience, we looked a how to identify simple key messages and some ‘tricks of the trade’ to convey them in an engaging way.

The highlight of the workshop was when participants, working in pairs, prepared a small section of the tour using some of the new ideas and then delivered this to the rest of the group (Peter, Esther and Mwitu are pictured below). Everyone gave lively and engaging presentations, with the group offering constructive comments and extra suggestions. Trees that cure 40 diseases and snails that take care of the garden are just two of the things I learned about, that have stuck in my mind and made me see the natural world differently, thanks to the Colobus Trust team. I’m sure visitors will feel the same!

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