SAGADA, Mountain Province – “Traveling should not just be a tour; it should be a tale.”
Such words come from Darius Langkawi, who hails from Benguet and at one time in his life experienced being a tour guide before he finally settled permanently to work on his family’s farm lot somewhere in Cada, Mangkayan, Benguet and become prosperous.
Another, Marla Alsiwen, from Baguio City has this to say about her past tours in the Cordillera countryside side when she was still single and her life had its share of ups and downs: “Pack up your troubles and travel!”
That well over 80,000 registered and unregistered local tourists bloated Baguio City’s population the past weeks, as per information coming from tourism authorities, comes as good news for the city’s business sector and its coffers, where tourism is one major economic underpinning of the City of Pines.
Unseen by most city residents is the tour guide service which is considered part of the travel product and their competency can very well influence visitors’ views on a tour guide quality and improving tourist satisfaction, according to a local study.
Although tour guides have existed for almost as long as tourism took root in Baguio City and elsewhere in the Cordillera, this is the first time that a serious research on the matter was given consideration by researchers of Benguet State University, (BSU), La Trinidad, Benguet.
It sought insight in tour guides’ crucial role in enhancing the image of the whole tourism sector as they are considered front line staff and proffer instrumental contributions to strengthen tour guides professional competency.
Importance of tour guides in the field of tourism lies in their direct contact with tourists and their spending longer periods of time with visitors. It is necessary then for tour guides to be given ample consideration for their service, the study explained.
Tourism in the Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR) is a large industry, which involves the Department of Tourism (DoT), Local Government Units (LGUs), organizations and professionals in the private sector but whose parallel missions are the same: welcome tourists and sell them different services.
This is where tourist guides come in the inter-play. Oxford Dictionary defines guide as “one who leads or shows the way, especially to a traveler in a strange country and to point out objects of interest.”
Collins, on the other hand, defines tour guide as “Person who guides visitors, in the language of their choice, and interprets the cultural and natural heritage of a given area and possessing an area-specific qualification.”
A tour guide is defined by RA Act 9593 as a Filipino or a permanent foreign national of the Philippines who guides foreign and domestic tourists for a fee, communication or other form of remuneration.
The tourism standards include the following roles of tour guides to enhance customer service: help retain existing customers, satisfy the customer, maximize the frequency of customer visits and generate more positive word-of-mouth advertising.
Tour guides should possess the combination of enthusiasm, knowledge, personality qualities and high standards of conduct and ethics who lead groups to important sites, while providing interpretation and commentary, the BSU study explained on the other hand.
The study, “Strategic Competencies of Local Tourist Guides,” was conducted by Richard A. Giye and Jhordan T. Cuilan of BSU and explored the patterns of communicative competencies of local tour guides and foreign English speakers.
Giye and Cuilan enlisted the help of 22 tour guides and 87 tourists observed at different tourist spots in Central Sagada, Mountain Province. Their conversations were recorded and underwent rigorous discourse analysis – and validated by the study participants.
It was discovered by the study that local tour guides experienced four major communication breakdowns identified as resource deficit, processing time pressure, perceived deficiency in own’s one language and perceived deficiency in the interlocutor’s performance.
“In the light of the communication problems, verbal and non-verbal strategies were used to address communication breakdowns, namely, avoidance and reduction, achievement and compensatory and interactional,” the study pointed out.
On the other hand, the tour guides learned to become creative in using non-verbal strategies which functioned either replacing or accompanying verbal output.
Tour guide participants were selected according to the following criteria: registered local tourist guide of Sagada; two years and above experience in guiding; belongs to the tour guides associations registered within Central Sagada, and; willingness to be observed and interviewed willingly.
Tour guides in the study composed 10 males and 12 females and previously underwent a series of trainings and seminars. They worked from 5 to 8 hours daily during peak tourist seasons. They were rice and coffee farmers during tourism’s lean seasons.
All of them were well-versed in Aplai Kankana-ey, Ilocano, Tagalog and considered English as their second language. The youngest participants were senior high school students who took up tourism courses offered by Sagada schools.
Endorsed by their schools, these students took their on-the-job training during holidays when tourists flocked to Sagada, while older tour guides were mostly farmers who worked part-time tour guides.
On the other hand, 87 foreign participants mostly spoke English, French, German and Filipino who dropped by Sagada after visiting tattoo artist Apo Whang-od in Buscalan, Kalinga.
Since Sagada is considered a “mid-place” destination tourism parlance, exhausted tourists make a beeline there for light adventure and recreation, while restoring energy. And as observed, tourists who flock there become more relaxed, talkative and inquisitive about Cordillera culture, giving tour guides the opportunity to establish communicative relations.
Before the study was conducted, the Office of the Mayor, Sagada Municipality gave its consent as well as endorsement that came from the Municipal Tourism Office. Three tour guide associations were randomly endorsed to the different tour guide hubs.
The tour hubs served as important places where the researchers conducted the study.
For the BSU researchers, they were given permission to observe the tours, take photos and audio recordings of authentic and meaningful conversations between tour guides and visitors on a daily account. Participants were briefed on the nature of the research and the confidentiality clause was explained to them.
During the research, no participant withdrew from the study.
Informal interviews were conducted with co-tour guides to confirm observation of the researchers. Triangulation interviews were made with the Municipal Tourism Office and with the Communication Officer of the Office of the Mayor of Sagada who worked closely and was part of the panel that certified the license of the tour guides.
Finally, confidentiality of participants’ information and response were secured by assigning a code name to each participants to hide their identities. All information was used only for research purposes with the signed letters of full consent of participants. The data gathered were sent to the participants for review and approval as part of the validation.
And the four major communications were finally identified. In resource deficit, it occurred among tour guides, or a knowledge gap that prohibits message verbalization and characterized by lexical, phonological and grammatical.
A sample communication of the lexical deficit: A tour guide can hardly explain why on November 1, or All Souls Day, residents flock to Sagada cemetery to light firewood instead of candles. The tourist responds by saying, “I cannot understand, why, but never mind.”
To which the guide, instead of explaining the significance of lighting of the wood, just responds by saying, “Okay!” There was difficulty on the part of the tourist processing the information because of the lack of vocabulary of the tour guide.
In the problem of processing time pressure, the pressure was on tour guides to respond fluidly and engagingly.
In perceived deficiency in own’s language, tour guides admitted their mishaps in their talks with tourists.
In the perceived deficiency in the interlocutor’s performance, it was found out tour guides are bothered by disturbances like noise, poor hearing, lack of concentration or lack of comprehension to fully respond to queries of tourists.
Moreover, the study emphasized the need for tour guides on socio-cultural competence in Cordillera given its diverse culture and traditions. Tour guides in CAR must bank on his/her creative, cultural, historical and “conceptual worldview,” to shape their semantic discourses.
It is a way of explaining the characteristic of a certain cultural or traditional concept that is virtually unknown to a visitor or tourist, his/her lack of familiarity from the highly culture-specific.
An example of this is how a tour guide can have the ability to explain to tourists the former practice- specific of burial called “sangadil,” which is virtually unknown to a tourist.
Nonetheless, the study pointed out that tour guides in CAR possess enough verbal and non-verbal communication to address communication breakdown in the field – to which the tourists who participated in the study, confirmed.
After all, a tour guide’s role can be considered multi-faceted, being a translator, information-giver – and an entertainer.