1. Charismatic personality:
No matter the size of the group, there’s often just one main leader for each trek. Unlike city tours, a trek leader is not only in charge of making the trekkers happy, but also in charge or looking after the welfare of his team members in the support crew. The clients will be expecting not only information but also entertainment. A trekking group leader needs to have an abundance of charisma.
2. Knowledge is paramount:
Charismatic leaders are great, but they cannot have charm alone. A great trek leader needs to know what they are talking about: from facts, figures, to the weather forecast for coming days. Give summaries on the subjects you are talking about and ask them if anyone would like to hear more details. Don't bore them with very long talks of history/culture/nature etcetera.
Having said that a great trek leader could be very knowledgeable, but he/she is not a walking encyclopedia. If you are asked about something you do not know - DO NOT MAKE THINGS UP and LIE! Someone on the group will pick up the lie. Once they discover that you lied, you will lose all credibility, and it does not matter that you did your job fantastically for 20 days on a 21-day trek, they will think you must have lied to them throughout the trip. Tell them that you do not have the answer to that particular topic but will update them once you find out more on the subject. You will receive a lot of "curve balls" especially early in your career, just contemplate on how you responded to it and try to handle those situations better the next time.
These days it is easy on the more commercial trials to get wifi connections, you can always search for answers online.
3. Excellent communication skills:
You might have incredible knowledge and outstanding charisma, but if you do not have "people skills" to interact with the group, they will probably feel as if they are listening to a pre-recorded tour. Trekking vacation is very different from regular bus tours. Your clients will be spending extended periods out of their comfort zone, make them comfortable, chat, joke with them. Ask them about how things are different where they come from as to where they are. Ask them to speak about themselves, what they do, what they like etcetera. Most people want to share their passions and favorite things with new friends. Make sure you are paying equal attention to all group members and engage everyone in participating.
4. Excellent storytelling ability:
Trekkers love to hear about cultures, religious practices and history of the region they are trekking in; they actually like listening to stories. A great trekking leader needs to be an excellent storyteller. Storytelling is not straightforward, it is down to timing, how long the story is, and much more.
Plan precisely when you are going to tell a particular story, decide how long it should be and practice it until you know it like the back of your hand.
5. Excellent organization skills:
Timing is of the essence when you are leading a trek. You need to be at specific places at specific times; you need to get to where the lunch place has been chosen and to your campsite at the end of the day. The group can only spend a particular time in places for photos, admiration, etcetera. You do not have to shepherd the group by giving them enough time but also remind them gently where they need to reach at the end of the day and hopefully before it gets dark.
Look at the given timings for each day for the hike, if some people in the group takes longer, then add more time to reach the destination. If the majority of the group is slower than regular trekkers, then start earlier in the mornings. If the need arises, make those rest days into hiking days to make up for their slowness (provided their acclimatization to altitude is not being compromised at all).
6. Good sense of humor:
It is an asset if you can lighten things up with occasional jokes here and there. Making fun of yourself to make the group smile is a safe way to avoid upsetting group members by making jokes about him/her. You can add humor to the stories you are telling by pointing out to a funny situation or lighthearted facts.
7. You must be sensitive:
Not all members of the group have the same fitness level, and someone might be having low self-esteem from being the last person to arrive at the campsite every evening or is suffering from diarrhea or other ailments. An excellent trek leader needs to be sensitive, supportive and encouraging during situations like this. Understanding human psychology and being compassionate can make problem-solving a lot easier.
8. You need to think on your feet:
As a trekking guide, your day can be unpredictable. The weather can quickly change, bridges might be washed away, landslides can block trails, things can be very different from the last time you trekked in this area. Being creative at improvisation, prepared and flexible is essential. It will take time to plan for every situation but the most important this is to learn from every experience.
On trekking tours, people usually have items such as raincoats, first aid kits, hiking poles, jackets, etcetera, which can be improvised to help the injured or find an alternative option.
9. A good sense of direction:
It may seem obvious, but some trek leaders do not have a good sense of direction or panics in a stressful situation. You have to be prepared for any number of situations you might face while in the mountains away from medical facilities, phone network, transportation etcetera. A lot of times your trekkers depend on your local knowledge and language skills to help get through a situation. Your clients will remember you for your problem-solving skills.
10. You must be passionate about being a trek leader:
If you do not love what you do or don't like providing an experience with new people, then leading treks is not the right profession for you.
Customers are paying for an unforgettable experience, and whether this is trek number 1 or trek 1000 for you, they should never know.
A real passion for what you do will shine through, so always remember to share that with your clients. It will reflect on the reviews they give on their trip experience.
To be an excellent trek leader one not only needs to have charisma, knowledge, communication skills, storytelling abilities, organizational skills; sometimes you also need to be a father figure, psychologist, counselor, even a mediator, and a mentor to not only to the group but the support crew as well.
Content by Raj Tamang - Chief Experience Officer
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