'Guiding in a mask is not easy. Tourist guides are trained to project their voices and use facial expression to hold the interest of members of their group on a walking tour. Just like anyone engaged in any face-to-face, communicative role – retail, customer service, education…
But a mask dampens the voice and hides all of a face below the eyes. Of course, it is true that people smile with their eyes as well the mouth – but a smile is so much more winsome when the whole face is visible.
While tourist guides have been allowed to work since restrictions eased after the first Covid-19 lockdown, in my case, Scottish Government guidelines and my professional Association’s rules have required the wearing of face coverings by both guide and guests, to minimize the risk of Covid infection to all. On the few guided walks which I have been able to take during the pandemic, we have got by, but I cannot deny it has been challenging.
After a good deal of thought and consultation with colleagues, earlier this year I decided that the solution lay in a wireless communication system and I invested in a Tourtalk TT 40 package.
I have had two outings with it and cannot imagine how I guided without it! It is very easy to set up and use, the transmitter and receiver units are light and discreet, and it removes the need for a group to huddle around to hear what I as the guide am saying. Social distancing looks after itself!
As a guide you can tell your guests more using a wireless system, because talking while walking is permissible. Safety is also enhanced as you can advise of potential hazards as and when they arise, rather than relying on advance warnings as part of forward guiding.
In one of my wireless groups, I had a guest in a wheelchair and the Tourtalk system made it so much easier and more enjoyable for him. We did not have to worry about my voice carrying across the breeze to reach him in his sitting position, which of course is lower than that of anyone standing. In a sense you could say it levelled the playing field.
Will it make me lazy and tempted to cut corners? I do not think so. On the contrary, I think that guests’ expectations are raised when they see a smart bit of kit being produced; as a guide with a wireless system you are guiding much more ‘in the moment’ and have to be more alert and able to keep talking if anything unexpected happens. And there is definitely a skill in maintaining a more continuous commentary than you do on a more traditional walking tour, which is punctuated by stops - like any skill it needs to be practised.
In short, I love my Tourtalk system!' - Alistair Hector
Alistair is a member of the Scottish Tourist Guides Association. He qualified as a Scottish Blue Badge Tourist Guide in 2016 after a career in school teaching. https://www.scotlandinsight.co.uk