The Quality of Guiding in the Galapagos Islands Just Got Better

The International Galapagos Tour Operators Association (IGTOA), in partnership with the Galapagos National Park Directorate and World Wildlife Fund Ecuador, is working to improve the quality of guiding in the Galapagos Islands as part of a broader long term effort to preserve and protect the world famous archipelago.

As part of this effort, IGTOA initiated, cosponsored, and helped organize a “Training of Trainers” guide training certification course from November 2 to November 12 in Puerto Ayora on the island of Santa Cruz. The course was offered to 10 elite national park guides who, as a result of the training, are now officially certified Galapagos National Park Guide Trainers.

This is the first such Park-sanctioned certification in the history of the Galapagos Islands. The Director of Galapagos National Park, Alejandra Ordonez, was present to hand out the certificates to the new guide trainers, and spoke about the long term commitment that the Park, along with IGTOA and the WWF, are making to quality guide training through this initiative.

The goal of the course is to build long-term capacity for guiding excellence in the Galapagos and to empower all Galapagos guides to become true ambassadors for the conservation and protection of the islands. The recently certified guide trainers will conduct workshops and lead courses on universal best practices in interpretive guiding for other national park guides in the future.

“When properly trained, guides are the most effective ambassadors for conservation that the Galapagos can have; the quality of guiding has a huge impact not only on the overall quality of visitor experience, but also on the impressions those visitors form about the importance of conserving the islands,” says Jim Lutz, IGTOA Board President, who was on hand for the full two week course.

The course was developed and taught by Dr. Sam Ham and Tom O’Brien, who are widely regarded as the world’s foremost authorities on guide training and thematic nature interpretation. Ham’s book, Thematic Interpretation: Making a Difference on Purpose, is considered the bible of guide training and thematic interpretation. The course focused on teaching the trainers to educate other trainers in a variety of critical guiding skills, thematic interpretation in particular.

“Visitors can play important an role in the ongoing protection and conservation of the Galapagos Islands. But first they need to truly understand the threats to this fragile ecosystem,” explains Matt Kareus, Executive Director of IGTOA. “This training allows guides to better understand and communicate these challenges and opportunities to the 200,000 visitors who come to the park each year.”

Thematic interpretation involves a guide creating a strong, relevant central theme in order to structure communication with guests. Studies have shown that this approach increases the likelihood that guests will be provoked to think about important issues related to the destination.

The first week took place in a classroom in Puerto Ayora. During the second week, participants were charged with creating their own training plan and teaching other national park guides to use thematic interpretation in their guiding as well as other guiding skills. With input and oversight from Sam Ham and Tom O’Brien as well as representatives from IGTOA, WWF Ecuador and the Galapagos National Park Directorate, the trainers instructed two groups of 25 national park guides as part of the certification process.

The first one-day training courses lead by the newly certified trainers are scheduled to start in February 2016 and will continue through the year.  IGTOA hopes that all licensed national park guides will receive the highly specialized training within the next two to three years.

The Galapagos Islands are one of the world’s most pristine oceanic archipelagos and home to hundreds of species found nowhere else on Earth.  The islands’ unique biodiversity, famously inspiring Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection, face a variety of threats, including invasive species, illegal fishing and poaching, and the impacts of population growth and development.

“IGTOA’s member companies are deeply committed to the idea that our industry and has a moral obligation to support education and conservation in the Galapagos Islands,” says Lutz.

About the International Galapagos Tour Operators Association (IGTOA)
IGTOA is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit association of travel providers dedicated to the complete and lasting protection of the Galapagos Islands. Through its Galapagos Traveler Conservation Fund, IGTOA raises money to support critical Galapagos conservation initiatives and educates travelers about the challenges facing the islands. Its mission is to preserve the Galápagos Islands as a unique and priceless world heritage that will provide enjoyment, education, adventure and inspiration to present and future generations of travelers. Membership is open exclusively to commercial and nonprofit organizations. See: http://www.igtoa.org/

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