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IGTOA Spearheads Pioneering Galapagos Guide Training Initiative

Date: May 2, 2016

"In the last 30 years, I’ve had the opportunity to teach guide training courses around the world. What’s excites me about what IGTOA is doing in the Galapagos is that it they didn’t hire us to come in and teach a handful of people some new guiding skills and then leave, which is the typical approach. By allowing us to train guides to become trainers, we’re leaving the knowledge, skills and capacity in the islands, where they belong, for the benefit of future generations of local people and visitors.” 

— Dr. Sam Ham, Professor Emeritus  of Communication Psychology and International Conservation, University of Idaho 

Thanks to the efforts of IGTOA and the support of our member companies, the quality of guiding in the Galapagos Islands is primed to take a huge leap forward in 2016 and beyond.

Last November, IGTOA spearheaded a pioneering approach to training guides in the Galapagos Islands. The goal was simple: rather than bring in experts to train a handful of guides and then leave, IGTOA wanted to build a foundation for guiding excellence that would have a profound and lasting impact in the islands. The association set out to build a system that would allow the more than 300 active guides in the Galapagos to receive world-class training, markedly improving their guiding skills and ultimately enhancing the quality of the visitor experience in the islands for years to come.  To achieve this lofty goal, IGTOA partnered with Dr. Sam Ham and Tom O’Brien, two of the world’s foremost guide-training authorities, and WWF Ecuador and the Galapagos National Park Directorate (GNPD) to teach 10 elite Galapagos guides to become first-rate trainers themselves.   

This “Training the Trainers” course occurred from November 2 to November 10, 2015. The first week took place in a classroom in Puerto Ayora on the island of Santa Cruz. Almost all of the guides who were chosen to participate had attended IGTOA’s 2013 guide-training course (“Five Star Guiding in Five Days”) and were identified as standouts by Sam, Tom, and Jim Lutz, IGTOA’s board president, who has been the driving force behind this endeavor. Along with representatives from WWF Ecuador and the GNPD, I was on hand to observe and help out as needed. 

The curriculum focused on how to teach the concept of “thematic interpretation,” which involves creating strong, relevant, central themes to structure communications with guests. Dr. Ham literally wrote the book on this topic. His seminal work Environmental Interpretation is considered a guide-training classic and is used by the U.S. National Park Service and other agencies around the world, as well as by naturalist guides, zoo and museum educators, docents, park rangers and other professional communicators. Studies have consistently shown that this approach increases the likelihood that guests will be provoked to think about important issues related to the destination and, in turn, will be more likely to actively support conservation efforts there. In addition to thematic interpretation, the curriculum also addressed how to teach best practices in guiding, including voice projection, professionalism, and understanding the needs and expectations of guests. 

The second week of the course consisted of a practicum in which would-be trainers were charged with creating their own training plan and teaching other national park guides to use thematic interpretation and the other guiding skills learned during the previous week. There were two full-day training courses, one in Puerto Ayora and the other in the town of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno on the island of San Cristobal. Each class consisted of 20 to 25 local Galapagos guides who volunteered to be trained by their colleagues under the direction of Sam, Tom, Jim Lutz and IGTOA board member Todd Smith, who is an accomplished guide trainer. The feedback from both the trainers and the local guides was effusively positive.

IGTOA’s course marks the first time in history that the Galapagos National Park Directorate has officially sanctioned a third-party guide certification course. On the final day of the course, we were honored to have the director of the Galapagos National Park, Alejandra Ordonez, on hand to present certificates to the new guide trainers. She spoke about the long-term commitment that IGTOA, WWF and the Galapagos National Park are making to quality guide training through this initiative. 

Next, it was time for our newly certified guide trainers to spread their wings and fly on their own. And fly they did. In March,a group of them organized, promoted and led their own courses on San Cristobal and Santa Cruz Islands. On each island, two newly certified IGTOA guide trainers teamed up to plan and teach two, free, one-day courses to 28 of their fellow guides. Plans are now in the works to offer more free courses in the town of Puerto Villamil on Isabella Island in June and elsewhere in the islands in September. The hope is that all licensed national park guides will have the opportunity to take the course in the next two to three years.  To make this happen, IGTOA, WWF Ecuador and the GNPD will provide limited logistical and financial support, but our trainers will do most of the work. 

On behalf of all of IGTOA’s member companies, I’d like to offer our sincerest thanks to everyone who made this exciting initiative so successful, including Jim Lutz, Todd Smith, Dr. Sam Ham, Tom O’Brien, Diego Nunez and Alejandra Ordonez from the GNPD, and Maria Casafont, Mariuxi Farias and Juan Carlos Garcia from WWF Ecuador. 

I’d especially like to thank the 10 incredibly dedicated and inspiring guides who volunteered their free time to become guide trainers: José Daniel Guerrero Vela, Sofía Darquea, Aura Banda, Bitinia Espinoza, Joseline Cardoso, Cecibel Guerrero, Fernando Sánchez Terán, Carlos Romero, Carolina Larrea Angermeyer and Gustavo Andrade.


Matt Kareus

Matt is the Executive Director of IGTOA.


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