Oh, I did many things… I started in IT. Fixing computers, programming and web design. Then I started a screen printing business. And at one stage I did volunteer work in Russia working with orphans and children. That is till I found my passion… guiding!
How did you make the transition to becoming a tour guide?
I have never been the ‘sit in the office’ type of guy. So, while working in Russia, I was always the one wanting to get out there and explore. I ended up being the one to pick visitors up from the airport and then when they had some off time I would always go exploring with them. Not knowing it I started to function as a guide and was loving it. At one point I had issues with visas and had to come back to South Africa. On returning, I decided to look into tourism and absolutely loved it!
Your tours have such a variety (and contain things I’m also very passionate about, namely chocolate & wine!). Which is your hands-down favorite?
As you’ve noticed by now, I love variety and get bored by doing the same thing over and over again… so it very much depends on what my mood is that day as to what one is my favourite. In trying to keep it interesting for me I developed the chocolate tour. So yes, that is definitely a favourite! But then there is also the Harley tour… some days I just want the freedom of the open road! I also love getting out on the Garden Route. These are longer tours (at least four days). This is all about nature, scenery and adventure. That is definitely one of my favourites!
All girls… sounds VERY NICE!!! But sadly I have not yet had a big group of all girls. I have taken out just one lady, but that is not the “all-girls” trip you were referring to. Generally, the guest will ride as a passenger with an experienced rider, but if somebody has a licence and feels comfortable riding a big heavy motorbike they are welcome to do that. Most often we get people who ride as passengers.
What does a typical day look like for you?
Typical? What is that? I try to stay as far away from typical as possible!!! Growing up, I was the rebel and would never conform. Now, hopefully I’ve grown up a bit. But I still find myself wanting something different.
Have you got a certain style of guiding, or do you just run with it on the day?
Yes, my guiding style is all about relationships. And to me, it is all about making my new friends have a great experience! So, if they had something else in mind from what was planned, I’m very happy to go with the flow… in fact I love it, as it keeps it interesting for me! I will always have a plan for the tour, but love to stir things up.
Making new friends! I’ve got some people I’ve toured with years ago and I’m still in contact with them. Then another best part is seeing my peeps happy and loving the Cape. Although part of my makeup is to be a nonconformist I am also a people pleaser and I get my energy from people being happy… if you can explain the contradiction in this you will be one of few, but that is who I am.
What’s the most bizarre experience you’ve had on a guided tour?
The first thing that comes to mind is when I had a group tour of 24 people and of everybody on the tour I connected the best with two brothers (and their wives) from Nebraska. So much so that they bought a massive bouquet of flowers for my wife when they left.
Two weeks after this, I worked on a big incentive with more than 650 participants. Everything about this job was different from the one two weeks prior. It was a different company, different setup and could not be further from the other. We were sixteen guides working on it and the chance of getting anybody specific on your tour was statistically impossible.
I connected very nicely with most of the people on the bus, but in particular with the couple from Nebraska. So much so, that by lunch time the wife took a picture of her husband and myself and posted it on Facebook with the comment “John and our guide Albert”. Within minutes they got a reply from their best friends back home “No, that is not your guide Albert, but our guide Albert!!!” What are the odds of that happening? I know nobody from Nebraska and in a space of two weeks I connect with different people on different tours only to find out that they are close friends.
Namibia without a doubt… the desert is amazing!!! And then there is Siberia! I would go to Siberia at the drop of a hat! These are so different from each other, but still so much is similar. The nature, people, and culture are just amazing!
Ever had any odd requests from clients?
Too many!!! The strangest was to do a three-week tour of Southern Africa. In itself, there is nothing strange about this. Just the schedule was all over the place and the distances were way out. The person making the booking saw on the map that it was all doable and booked everything accordingly. But doing 600 km in Europe or the US is not the same as doing it in Africa. The roads are much worse and covering that distance takes 10-12 hours. We tried to tell the client that he needed to reconsider the itinerary, but he thought we were trying to pull the wool over his eyes. We did the tour and they loved it, but it could have been a lot more pleasurable. We spent a lot more time on the road and had to cut some things out of the program…
Every job has its ups and downs. Are there any aspects of your job that you don’t like or aren’t that keen on?
I just did a job last month where I had a guide on my team. She wanted to do her own thing and could not care less about the people, our planning or coordination. She was punting for commissions and in the end, the whole experience could have been better. I’m definitely not keen or working with people that have only their own pocket (and financial gain) at heart.
Having been touring on my own for many years I would always go exploring on my own thinking I need not spend money on something I can do myself. But since I started guiding I realised the value of having a guide. The guide does not just have the historical and natural history/information, but also knows where to go and where not to. I’ve so often heard of people being ripped off and spending much more doing it on their own than if they had taken a guided tour.
Tell us something about your area/activity that only a guide would know.
Everything can be found on the Internet and in guide books. But as a guide I make the facts come alive. I’ve even travelled with some locals who, though they know the history and different locations, find that they are amazed by the end of the tour. It’s one thing to know the facts, it’s another thing to know where it all fits in. It’s my work and I do it every day, I know where to tell what story and which facts to give when. If somebody does the research before the tour, they don’t always know what details fits in where.
Building a personal relationship is the most important. Out of that relationship, a great guide will want the best for his clients. If they are into history, he needs to have that information. If they are more into experiencing different things, he (or she) needs to adapt accordingly!
And finally, have you got any tips for people who are interested in booking a guide like yourself, but aren’t too sure what to look for?
Read what other people have said about them!!! Most guides can talk a lot and are not shy about selling themselves, but it is only on reading reviews that you will know what they are really like. Don’t be shy to communicate with them beforehand asking a personal question. From this, you should also be able to read between the lines getting a clearer view of who the guide is. And then there is social media. Find the guide’s profile and see what he has been posting online. Often people will sell themselves as one thing, but what they post on social media will tell you more about them than what they realise. I will not book a guide that is always fooling around making light of any topic nor the guide that is always aggressive in his replies on serious topics.