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Excerpt: The Professional Guide's Handbook

CHAPTER 6: Trip Planning and Logistics

"The most important lessons I’ve learned about trip planning stem from my own early mishaps. Most of those were avoidable. What has been the biggest lesson of them all? Don’t take anything for granted when preparing for a trip. Today’s guests are more demanding than ever – and scarcely tolerant of poor planning and execution.

It’s fair to say that unexpected twists and turns are what make adventure travel so thrilling. Breaching into the unknown and pushing one’s limits to achieve something that is on the edge of what’s possible engages the senses and enriches the experience. Your guests might ask themselves questions like “Will I be strong enough to reach the summit?” “Do I have the stomach to send the big rapid?” “Will the weather hold out?” “Will I witness an elephant in the wild?” These and other outcomes may or may not go as envisioned, and that is the risk travelers take in exchange for the chance to feel alive, or even transformed. Risk inherent to the experience, however, is wholly different from risk related to mishaps or failures that result from poor planning. Another personal trip experience comes to mind, which will add clarity to what I mean.

In my early days as a guide I was leading a private sea kayaking trip in the Ten Thousand Islands area just north of Everglades National Park in Florida. We were island hopping for a few days, camping on beaches, drinking piña coladas, and paddling with sea turtles and dolphins. I knew the area well, and on the second day I decided to take a detour. My idea was to lead the couple in my charge through a sinuous and narrow passage that slices between two small mangrove islets. Inside the passage there was a high likelihood that we would encounter octopuses and nesting roseate spoonbills (beautiful large birds), sure to be highlights for these wildlife enthusiasts. I informed my guests of the plan and generated excitement for the mini safari excursion.

I was overly confident in my local knowledge, though, and never bothered to check the tide chart. At the passage entrance we were met with a tidal race that prevented us from being able to enter. There was no choice but to turn back and paddle the long way around, which meant a lot of extra paddling for everyone that day, not to mention no unique critters. My guests were rightly disappointed – and very tired – by the time we reached camp at the next island. Not only did we not encounter the wildlife we expected, but we had paddled several unnecessary miles. It took a herculean effort to overcome my mistake (more piña coladas helped). Had I just taken a little extra time and planned the route with more care, the journey’s outcome would have been more fruitful and fun.

Planning and preparing for a commercial adventure travel trip is different from designing your own personal expeditions. The glaring distinction is that you have a heightened responsibility to paying guests. They will be visiting for just a short period of time and expect the trip to run smoothly from start to finish. You also have a responsibility to keep everyone safe. Therefore, professional trip planning requires a more conservative approach whereby every aspect of the trip experience must be considered. Remember, too, that one of your main goals as the expedition’s leader is to remain flexible and adaptable. Your plans and strategies for managing the trip must include space for incorporating interesting opportunities that arise organically as the trip ensues – opportunities that will personalize the trip and enhance the guest experience.

Although comprehensive trip planning can be challenging in some regards, you do have a leg up thanks to the support of your company. The itinerary is already designed for you. Reservations will have been made for services such as transportation, accommodations, and restaurants. Scheduling details are mostly sorted and back-up plans are identified for potential failings or mishaps. Likewise, relationships with local operators and service providers are already established. You can thank your company’s program manager for all this work. A program manager is responsible for itinerary design and trip planning, either working alone or as the head of an operations team. Believe it or not, many adventure travel trips take years to pull together. Imagine all of the work it takes to research routes and activities, obtain permits, secure insurance, make reservations, vet local operators and negotiate contracts, procure equipment, create guide schedules, and so on. Itinerary development and logistics planning equate to an enormous jigsaw puzzle, whereby all the pieces have to be made to fit together. This means that your program manager is intimately familiar with all aspects of trip planning and logistics. If questions, challenges, or emergencies do arise once you’re at the helm of a trip, you can always reach out to your program manager for assistance.

In many ways, the foundation laid by your company’s operations staff makes planning much easier for you. But your role is much more than just acting as the executor of an itinerary. There is still much to do, and it’s important to be thorough. In this chapter we’ll concentrate on planning and preparing for a trip to go as envisioned, including strategies for remaining flexible and adaptable. Yet, it is not enough to just plan for everything to go well. Professional guides must prepare for the unexpected. Diligent trip planning has profound effects on your future ability to make good decisions and to effectively manage risk in the field (Boyes et al. 2019). (In chapter 7 you’ll learn how risk management is greatly improved thanks to careful trip planning and preparation, and in chapter 8 you’ll learn that decision-making in the complex and dynamic expedition environment is made easier through diligent preplanning. In chapter 9 we’ll discuss strategies for managing challenging situations when plans unravel due to unforeseen circumstances.) With clearly identified goals, a road map to attain those goals, proper preparations, and backup plans in place, you’ll be better able to make sense of new, real-time information out in the field and to better manage opportunities and challenges that arise.

What occurs during a trip is ultimately your responsibility. You’ll be the one answering directly to the guests, and they rely on you personally to ensure everything goes according to plan. To help guarantee your success, most of this chapter will take a somewhat prescriptive approach to trip planning. In a nutshell, your success will come down to the “Five Ps,” a refrain ubiquitously echoed throughout the industry: Prior Preparation Prevents Poor Performance. But first, we’ll begin with an important discussion of plans versus strategies."

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