Confessions of a Tour Director

“You would make a great Tour Director!” my close friend Donna remarked as we sat relaxing in my apartment on Queensland’s Gold Coast. Donna is heavily involved in Canadian Tourism, and was visiting me for the weekend from Sydney. Her feet were on my lap, and as I massaged dainty toes with some warm oils, she was in bliss-land, and with half closed eyes she managed to make some disjointed yet interesting comments about the possibility of me attaining a position as a Tour Director with a leading Australian tour company. My antennae went up! Tour Director? “How does one find such a position?” I asked….. Too late, she was asleep.

My life was at the cross roads. The world financial crisis of late 2008 was hitting tourism worldwide with a vengeance. To be assured of an income during this period would be a godsend! My own business of organising small groups to Italy and Croatia was becoming more difficult during these times of heavily discounted fares with tours being promoted by the big boys of tourism. How could I compete?

Donna successfully put me in touch with one of Australia’s leading Travel Agencies,  and almost a year later, there I was with three tours down and four to go for the summer season of 2009 in in Europe.

Due to my knowledge and love of all things Croatian, I was assigned the 14 day Dalmatia Discovery Tour, which departed from Budapest and makes it’s way down to Zagreb, the capitol of Croatia  then across to Zadar on the Dalmatian Coast. From here the tour made it’s way down to Split, then along the stunning Makarska Riviera to Dubrovnik, ‘Pearl of the Adriatic’. Following three nights on the Southern Dalmatian Coast, we head back up to Trogir, Plitvice Lakes, and Ljubljana, the capitol of Slovenia, Postojna Caves, Lipica Stud Farm, and finally Venice. This itinerary places me in my element! Spending time in two countries that I am very passionate about, Croatia and Italy.

After two weeks on tour with my first group, the hectic program of Go! Go! Go!…..up at 6.00am and making sure the listening devices were all charged up ready for the walking tours during the coming day with the local guides…going over the day’s itinerary, reading up my special notes, timetables and making sure all was in order for the day ahead, texting the guides …confirming our meeting points …..then finally down to breakfast and on to the coach… “Don’t forget to check your baggage has been brought down from your room”! This was my usual war-cry!

A Tour Director, so I am learning, has a lot of responsibility. Planning and confirming are the key ingredients, as the best made plans have a tendency to go astray….

The goal of every successful professional tour director is never to allow your guests any possibility of sensing your moments of anguish. This is a holiday many have dreamed of, they are here to enjoy, to indulge and relax with a tour director that allows them to feel safe, comfortable, well-fed, and the fixer of all things imaginable!

My greatest satisfaction has always been in taking great care of my guests, from the days spent in our restaurants in the past, until the present moment, trying my best to make dreams come true.

The groups consisted mainly of retirees, mainly self-funded, more mature Australian couples, who are at the stage in life when they have the resources, and unlimited time to travel, and reasonable health before old age sets in disabling them from any future thoughts of leaving home and travelling long distances, when aching bones, and knee and hip replacements are more the talking point rather than travel destinations.

I have so far found the majority of these people to be so delightful, patient and fun loving and appreciative of all the effort and time involved in keeping them happy, contented and fulfilling their dreams and expectations about their chosen tour.

There are however, a small minority who are obviously at odds with the whole world, and particularly with themselves, and no amount of encouragement or professionalism can place even a half smile on their face!

One such person, an elderly fellow of British heritage, had his hair parted at the back of his crown and combed it forwards and across the top of his head, with a florid complexion, and small steely blue eyes that peered right through you. You know the type!

Poor fellow, his continual complaining attitude was annoying many of the other passengers, and one complaint followed the other; “the coach is not comfortable; there is no lumbar support; the seats are not numbered; you didn’t explain where the toilet was; our room is not big enough; there is a tree spoiling our view; I refuse to walk to the restaurant; There’s no Nescafe!.”

I decided he was sent to try me, and so with all the professionalism and charm I could muster, I worked very hard to make him comfortable and to provide him with a few little extras. In Zagreb I bought him a kilo of the largest, ripest, blackest, freshest cherries; organised a day cruise in Dubrovnik to the nearby islands (something he wished to do) always making sure I attended to his needs as much as possible, and always considering the fact he was elderly, but he was a hard nut to crack!

Finally in desperation, I had a quiet moment with his lovely little meek and mild wife. I asked her if her husband was feeling well as he seemed so grumpy. She looked at me with eyes that spoke a 1000 words, and said, “Well dear, thanks for asking, I’m afraid he’s been suffering badly with severe constipation!”

That explained everything!  Not even my big black ripe cherries did the trick!

by Robyn Vulinovich…Tour Director