Exiting out of Schiphol International Airport in Amsterdam early Wednesday morning, I was met by the blowing wind and light snow of a not-so-spring-like day in the blustery Netherlands. At the end of March, the weather seems just not able to make up its mind, just as its doing back home in Montana right about now. I search the rows of taxis and busses for my friend and Austin-Lehman’s European Operations Manager, Ron van Dijk. All of a sudden, a familiar voice calls out from across the way. Sure enough, Ron is here, right on time, and we’re ready to drive the 1.5 hours southeast to Nijmegen, his home town.
We had previously decided that it would be a great idea to bring an American over to Europe to attend the annual European spring guide training held at Ron’s office in the middle of town. Our director had popped in a few years before, but otherwise Ron (who’s been managing operations in Europe for decades) had been handling guide training, quite well I might add, with few influences from any “outside forces” for years and years.
Now, I must tell you, I had my qualms about attending our European training. Our operations are run a bit differently in Europe since we feature mostly biking trips in Europe versus more multisport trips in the US. Plus, what other learning’s would I be able to pass on to our most seasoned guides in the business, like Desiree Jansen and Anneke Peelen who’ve been guiding ALA’s (and previously Eurobike’s) trips for more than 20 years each? Wow! I was quite relieved to know that I had guided one of our Austria Family Tours the previous summer, so I at least had an idea about the “behind-the-scenes” magic of a European trip, and the differences between running an Austrian tour versus a Montana trip. Plus, my experience as both a guide in the field and as a member of the esteemed ALA office staff couldn’t hurt me either, right?
I realized as soon as our European guides started filtering into the room one by one, big hello’s and hugs to be had by all, that I had nothing to fear. These were my fellow guides, even if not on the same continent, and they had nothing but smiles, encouragement, and inspiration to provide. What a team to be a part of! What friends to have across the ocean in a foreign land! I have nothing but good things to say about each and every one of our European guides – what amazing leaders and human beings in general!
Over the next two days, Ron and I would proceed to educate the tourism industry’s finest guides, covering every little detail of customer service, problem solving, and logistical management. Everything from the well-known ALA “WOW” factor to marketing efforts were covered. We jumped on the Austin-Lehman Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Flickr accounts for an online tour, and stressed the importance of communication among fellow guides, hotel and restaurant staff, and our offices in both Nijmegen and Billings. Van and bicycle safety, food preparation, “sweet dreams”, paperwork, and photography became the focal points of conversation (among many other important items). Most of all, we shared our stories and advice with other guides, new and seasoned alike, providing all with inspiration for the upcoming 2013 season.
Overall, I took the following away: tour guides work HARD, just as hard as anyone I know, to provide Austin-Lehman’s guests with the perfect vacation. Our slogan, “the toughest part is going home” could not be truer in any sense of the phrase. As I sit here typing this blog on my flight home, I can’t help but be excited and motivated for the upcoming season, AND I’m not even done yet! Our domestic (U.S. and Canada) guide training is coming up in May and I can’t wait to share what I’ve learned with all of those closer to home. Better yet, Ron van Dijk himself will be flying to Billings to take part in our guide training for the first time. I can’t wait to begin the whole process over again, only this time, at home!
Hope you’re as stoked as I am for the upcoming vacation season. I can personally tell you that because of your guides, it’s going to be a good one.