Sue Hardy

Over the last decade, cave guiding has taken on a new role in society. No longer are guides entertainers in a mythological world of fantasy, cave guides are now professional environmental carers. Visitors want, and some demand, to know and understand the dynamics involved in a karst and cave environment.

All guides aim to create their own individual style and this is encouraged actively by management. If rote learnt information was given parrot fashion the visitor would be less likely to visit another cave. Likewise, scientific data can overwhelm and confuse the general public, thus becoming necessary for the guide to breakdown the information into absolute facts. The work that A. Spate has done in building the guides knowledge of geology and geomorphology is excellent. The follow-up by cave managers has been weak and the result is distorted information being received by the public as the guide tries to breakdown the data.

During the last twelve months in Australia and New Zealand around 300 cave guides were explaining 'how a cave forms'. All were using their own words with varying degrees of success.

This is not measured by scientific accuracy but in the signs of recognition on the faces in the group. In current guide-training programmes management assumes that their staff will have innate skills in reading people when this is often far from true. With these weaknesses in the guide's presentation, the visitor often hears one thing and the next guide's version appears to be different, which results in "but the other guide said ...".

The cave visitor is usually on a day trip and wants to be entertained and learn a little on the way. The ratio of needs, based on entertainment vs learning, will vary with each individual and be influenced by age, nationality, language, interests, status, education and the peer group they are with. At the end of the day, satisfaction will have been obtained only if the guide/s have recognised the visitors ratio of needs and met it.

To date, the emphasis on training guides has focused on geology and history. The skills of guiding are haphazardly picked up by following other guides on cave inspections. In Australia, we give little attention to the most essential part of a guides training - the art of guiding.

The U.K. already recognises the importance of fully training staff. English guides, in castles and manor houses, are taught about people and their cultural differences. How to identify the bored American gentleman and how to spot the lady that is hard of hearing are part of standard training practices in England. Training in these skills here, at best, extends to a chat over a cup of coffee back in the office.

Non-verbal communication is recognised as being more important than the spoken word and different cultures have different non-verbal signals. Many people are taught that eye contact is a sign of respect. In a cave this can result in the entire group looking at the guide. All very well but where is the guide standing? by the switchboard?, by the feature?, at the back of the group?, in the middle of the group? With good training, the guide will know where the group wants the guide to be and is prepared to alter each tour accordingly.

How many guides know which cultures regard looking someone in the eye as disrespectful? Easily misinterpreted as boredom and disinterest, the guide may cut the tour short leaving the visitor disappointed that more information was not given. Even worse is the guide that cannot distinguish between people talking because they are bored or because they are rude or because they are so interested they haven't noticed the guide has started to speak. If the guide is trained in non-verbal communication and can read the visitors signals, the overall level of satisfaction increases and the tour has more meaning for everyone.

Knowing how adults learn will greatly assist guides in realising the visitors expectations. It is generally accepted in adult education that information is best absorbed through interactive learning. Effective learning is best obtained when sight, sound and speech are combined. By training guides in the basics of adult education, they can better tailor their inspections to meet the visitors needs.

Current guide training inadvertenly gives trainees so much information they feel compelled to try and give it all on each tour. By encouraging the guide to stop talking, the visitor has the opportunity to talk with their companions and this fosters learning. Also the less the guide says, the less there is to be misinterpreted. Very few people will stop the guide to ask what a word means. Occasionally they will ask and if the guide does not fully understand, how will the visitor? Managers may not realise just how simple the language needs to be.

Effective guiding can be achieved if the guides are taught some basic guiding skills and the KISS principle.

It is important for managers not to neglect the fact that their guides are individuals. The age of guides range from teenagers to over seventy. This clearly states that the range of life experiences is extensive. To have so many diverse people trying to reach the same objective creates a challenge that should be taken up. Tourist cave managers in the 1990s need to change guide training practices to meet the new demands of society. Currently guides are taught the history and geology of the cave, given a torch and sent on their way. If we can teach them non-verbal communication skills and cultural differences they will appear more professional. Include adult education and our guide will be able to identify the visitor's ratio of needs. Encourage the guide to stop talking and start listening to complete their training. The end result is a highly professional finish to your organisation and to all cave guides.