Saturday, September 27, 2008 | By: BlackGargie

Crisis Management

When my boss taught me in the tourism industry the importance of crisis management, I never would've thought that it was really that important.

Being a tour guide is pretty interesting, especially when you meet new and unexpected people. Yesterday I was supposed to lead a big group, and it was a little too big to pick up all the guests because they were separated into almost all hotel possibly existed, so we had another driver to assist on picking up my tourists. I gave them the first place to go to in my tour, which is the Royal Regalia Building, since it closes early in the afternoon during this fasting month, and when we were there, the other driver had brought the rest of my guest, one of them being my first Japanese tourist.

While I was explaining away in the RR, I noticed that he was nodding and smiling all the way, and I wasn't sure if he had understood me entirely. I thought he was just a quiet follower and prefer listening, so I let him be and continued using my regular English language at the moment. When we came to one of the mosque (which was part of the tour), I personally approached him to ask him if everything was alright. Did you know what he replied me?

"Me. English. No good."

Gah! That means throughout the RR I've been wasting my perfectly good English on him because he couldn't understand a single word I said! Apparently I was experiencing a language barrier crisis.

Finally I sighed and said, "Watashi, Nihhon, little bit." with added hand gestures. You couldn't imagine that huge smile on his face when he finally found someone who could at least understand whatever he needed to say. I remember my first question to him in my limited Japanese vocabulary was "Anata wa Brunei wa hajime deska (Is this your first time in Brunei)?"

So throughout the tour, with the help of hand gestures and very, VERY simple English, I try to explain to him what I've explained to my tourist about the places we've visited. He would reply me mostly in Japanese, but with a little hand gestures and his limited English vocabulary, I could more or less understand him. I tried many of the simple basic words like Ou-sama (King), kodomo (children), tomodachi (friend) oto-san (father), oka-san (mother), watashi wa (I, me), anata wa (you), atsui (hot) and koibito (lover) to try and translate what's going on throughout the tour. It was one of those times where I was really glad and grateful that my fiance and I have a common interest for anime. LOL!

All in all, that was a fun experience coz I get to talk to a real life Japanese and not one that has broken English and all that crap. To be conversing with a real Japanese and talking in his terms made me feel that it is so important to be multi-lingual. Maybe I should grab a English-Japanese book and start learning better Japanese.

Another thing about crisis management you may never know what might hit you at the end of the day. Just like today, when I was leading a tour of mostly senior citizens, after a long day's tour, I was sending those who were going for our tour plus lunch package to the designated restaurant, which is Wecan Elite Restaurant somewhere near Gadong area in Brunei, when one of the seniors approached me and asked if we were heading to the restaurant now because he was a Type-A (or is it B?) Diabetic in which he has low blood sugar level and cannot be left hungry for long or else he would faint. I assured him we were on our way and asked him if he would like some leftover biscuits we brought from the Water Village to ease off the hunger first. He looked like he wanted to but his wife forbid me, saying that he had enough chocolate for now, so I shrugged and thought, 'Well, OK, since he's diabetic, maybe he required a certain amount of sugar limit'

But once we were at the restaurant and I was waiting for my receipt, the wife suddenly approached me in a panic mode and asked if they sold Coke because she needed it immediately for his husband as his sugar level was getting really low. I translated it into Malay to the waitress and she gave me that really blur look as if it was not urgent at all and told me very slowly that we could only get Coke across the street because they don't serve soft drinks or any other. The wife was panicking and said if we don't give him something sweet to drink now, I would have to end up calling the ambulance. The waitress still couldn't see the urgency of it and took her forever to hang out in the kitchen to look for something sweet to drink. The wife looked as if she was going to strangle me while I felt like strangling the waitress myself for being such a lame ass. No wonder there have been so many people complaining that this Wecan Elite Restaurant is like the lamest restaurant ever in terms of services.

Well, technically the wife is partially to be blamed because she was the one who didn't want me to feed him something before we reached the restaurant and now she's panicking and making it like it was my fault her husband is dying. But anyway, I decided to ask the wife to give me whatever money she had and I literally flew in my footsteps to the nearest supermarket to buy a can of juice. When I told the cashier to hurry up with the change, she gave me that annoyed look and produced the change very unhappily. Talk about rotten luck! If I weren't gasping for breath and was in a hurry to save a man's life, I would've scolded that lady for giving such an unprofessional face to a guest who is handling a life-or-death situation. By the time I got there, apparently the waitress had woke up from her La La Land and got him a glass of red cordial juice for him and he was finally alright. I still presented him the juice for extra measure and everything else went smoothly.

How's that for crisis management?
Wednesday, September 10, 2008 | By: BlackGargie

Officially A Tour Guide

After almost two weeks of training and settling the basics of all basic tour guiding in the WOB, I have finally "graduated from boot camp", so to speak (as put by my friend), and have went to the next stage of tour guiding.

This time, I was given the duty of becoming a full-fledged tour guide in the Bandar Splendour Tour, which means I've been given the responsibility as I've seen my seniors done on locating and picking up my tourists for the day at certain hotels, and then take them to places provided by the tour and give a sort of full-fledged details on what, when, where, why, who and how of that place I take them.

At first, it was a little nerve-wrecking, because this is the time where I'm given a really big responsibility and also doing it without any supervision. I was afraid someone might follow along and observe me while I work, but besides the assigned driver, I was on my own.

The first time was always a little harder because I have to make sure that I gave them the accurate information. The spots to go is always fixed: a 40-minute photoshoot of the Sultan's mosque, a 5-minute photoshoot of the Sultan's palace (from the outside, of course), a 40-minute tour in the Royal Regalia building, a 40-minute tour in the Brunei Museum and then the rest of the hour to tour the Water Village, so total of a 4-hour tour.

My first group of 7 were mostly old and middle-aged people, and they moved kinda slow, so I try to make them match my pace, but at the same time not to push them too hard. Of course, I have to be knowledgable as this is not WOB where I can just bullshit my way through. I have to know that my facts are right and that I give the correct information to my tourists. In this group, there was a couple who was very inquisitive and asked a lot of detailed questions, but I try to answer them as professionally as possible.

My second group was slightly more (13 people in total-gah! Unlucky number!) and needed a rented bus for this, and I got the chance to talk with a mike! If this were a karaoke session I would be singing by now, but too bad, I'm at work, so no singing involved. This group was slightly more because there was a family of 4 joining, and I could put my babysitting skills to work! LOL! And the kids were not afraid of strangers, so it was easy for me to help out whenever they get a little cranky.

I discovered that I have to schmooze my way a lot while doing my tour. I have to know which button to push in order to make them happy, and I have to be happy, friendly and talkative as well as being funny in order to entertain my guests. I also have to be ready to extend a helping hand whenever they need it and have to match my topic of conversation to the right person in order to feel connected to them. I also learnt from my seniors that are certain tourists from certain countries who are a little reluctant to part with their money when it comes to tipping, so I tend to try and find their good side so that they would ease up a little. It wasn't that successful yet, but at least I've tried.

Speaking of tipping, both my tours have successfully yielded at least a considerable sum of tipping. My first group (3 couples and a sole tourist) had a result of 2 out of 3 couples tipping me, usually the husband tipping, and my second group (aside from those who only took the half-day tour and left the rest of the group to be sent back to their respective hotels) had a result of the remaining tourists tipping me, usually the husband, the brother or the child (those who came with their mothers) tipping me.

I have discovered some sort of trick that would ensure me at least a 50-50 chance of me getting tipped: Put on a 'Pity poor lil' me' face and apologize humbly for any mistakes done during the course of the tour and always say "This is my first/second/third time leading this tour" or "I'm technically still in training" and this will immediately ensure a surprised and/or impressed look on them and they would be happy to fork out as much money as they can to reward you for your good work.
Warning: Only applicable for truly first-timers in tour-guiding. Once you're already a seasoned tour guide, you gotta figure out other ways to make them spend lavishly on you.

The only downside is that the hours are slightly irregular and you are often on-call, but then again, if the upside is that you get to meet different kinds of new people everyday and get side money in the process, who can complain?
Tuesday, September 2, 2008 | By: BlackGargie

Welcome to Brunei-The Official Tour

Well, now that I have been training for a week as a tour guide, I was officially a tour guide as of today. I met the big boss and was told that I will be doing the WOB, which is the basic among the basics of tours before I move up to the higher level of tour guides. Geez, I feel like as if I have to complete a game level before moving on or something. LOL!

Anyway, I had my first batch of tourists today in the 11.30 morning tour. They were a bunch of serious lot who would only listen and not really participate or react to whatever I was saying. Only a few people were actually responsive to what I'm saying and I felt a little like an idiot because it was technically my first time guiding without supervision, with only the driver and another new girl to observe how I work as my only company that's on my side. I kept having this mantra in my head saying that "This is just like a normal class presentation with the 'class' moving and the visual aids are the real deal. Just treat it that way", but all in all, I'm pretty much doing alright, just a little awkward in the beginning.

Now, when I got my second batch for the 1.30 tour, things were a little smooth because it's more or less like a rewinded version of the first tour, and a little more refined because I could include things that I forgot to add in the previous tour. The group was my favourite of the two because these were a lively lot, whereby some of the tourist actually came from my hometown in Sabah! LOL! I got my fellow countrymen here! The rest were, of course, halfway across the globe. They were very responsive and seemed to enjoy whatever I said. In fact, the funny part was everytime I tell them to look left or right to see the buildings I need to introduce, they would immediately whip out their camera to the direction I was pointing.

Since today is the official public holiday and the first day of the fasting month, there are limited areas to go to, so instead of just driving by places, we actually make pit stops at certain areas for 5 to 10 minutes to let them take pictures to lengthen the time of the tour, until we take them to the final pit stop which is one of the local food court. Unfortunately because it was the fasting month, not much food stalls are open, so their final pit stop is limited to shopping for souvenirs, but I have fun talking to both groups and get them to know better while they lounge around.

At the end of the tour, the first group just nodded quietly and got off the bus and left with only a thank you (like I said, they're a solemn group), but the second group were actually impressed that I was a pretty good speaker despite the fact that this was my first day and my first time as a tour guide. I even got a standing ovation! Well, ok, exaggeration. Not standing, but an ovation no less. They got off the bus looking very cheerful and the only male foreigner tourist whom I thought I did not captivate him enough (because he was mostly quiet) was actually the person to tip me! Wohoo~! I got tips again after my day's hard work! Yay! Neways, since the new observing girl took the effort to join the tour even though she was fasting, I decided to split it half for her trouble.

I think I'm really actually cut out for this job. Hopefully I get more nice tourists like the ones I have today. I'm quite looking forward to work tomorrow.