This is a funny story (not funny for me at the time) about an altercation between a coach driver and tour manager. It occurred during the early 90s on one of my first UK group tours.
The coach driver is an essential part of the tour as he/she not just drives, but also interacts with the guests, and helps to set the atmosphere/tone of the tour. As you board the coach there is the driver looking at you – get a miserable driver and the passengers will not be happy! And the tour manager is equally or even more important as the guide, daily organizer, and trouble shooter. And they have to work closely together.
So naturally the relationship and dynamics between driver and guide is at the very heart of a successful tour. Quite often, with tour companies big and small, the driver and guide meet for the very first time on the first day of the tour – it may even be at the airport 5 minutes before they collect the passengers off a flight and begin the tour!
So they meet, size up one another, and have to start to work together and communicate effectively within minutes of meeting. And they must appear totally professional to the passengers/guests as they board the coach for their holiday of a lifetime. The passengers must never suspect that up the front the dynamics of personalities are determining how successful the tour will be. So what do they need to sort?
The driver and guide will both have an itinerary, ideally one with detailed driving routes on roads suitable for the coach – more about that later. This should ensure that there are no disagreements about which way to go! They need to sort the number and length of stops during the day, parking, numbers of driving hours each day, and cleaning of the coach, which the driver should perform each night.
Personalities do come very much to the fore, and the problem that I struck with one or two male UK drivers is that they tended to be a bit “macho”, and did not like take driving directions from a female tour manager. Also they often tried to bond with me as the other male, and cut out the female tour manager from conversations. I became aware of that very early on, and actively discouraged it.
Ideally the driver and guide get on well, act professionally, and the tour runs very smoothly. As I soon discovered, the key to success is to select your tour guide/manager first, then secure a driver with whom they have worked before – then no problems..
My story here involves the interaction between a feisty, female tour guide/manager from London, and a dour, macho male driver from Yorkshire – not a good combination.
We arrived at London Heathrow about 6am, and after clearing customs etc, there was our tour guide/manager Sheila (real name) waiting for us. We had her for the next 6 days. I introduced myself and I could see that she was not enthused about guiding a bunch of Aussies – even cultured ones like us.
I mentioned that I would like to speak briefly to the group on the microphone once on board, as I was meeting several for the first time. But she made it very clear that SHE was the tour manager and in charge of microphone. I think she thought I was some staff member along on a junket. I swiftly and politely put her straight on that one – not a good start.
Then the coach and driver Geoff arrived to collect us. He didn’t look happy either, as he had just met Sheila briefly a few minutes before. I could see it was London vs Yorkshire, and liberated lady vs macho man. Let the games begin – off we went for 2 nights in Bath.
The first two days were not great as the tension grew. Geoff admitted that he had never been to the west of England, and had spent his professional career driving Yorkshire folk to Paris for cheap 4 day breaks where he was the driver/guide in the French capital! Amazing!
The problem was, although Geoff knew nothing about where we were going, he insisted or arguing with Sheila constantly about the route when she was giving him driving instructions. This bickering was occurring in front of the passengers, and I was rapidly getting tired of it.
On the third day we had been to visit Cheddar Gorge, and were heading towards the M5 motorway to make our way to Plymouth in the south. As we approached an intersection Sheila said”, “Turn right driver”. He replied “I think it’s left”. She repied tersely, “I am instructing you to turn right.” So he did.
I could see the smirk on his face from the back of his head, He knew, as I did, that she was wrong – for the very first time – sorry Sheila. We were heading north instead of south!
Then the sign for Bristol appeared and the penny dropped for Sheila. Mumbled apologies to driver, whilst I could feel his smugness oozing down the coach. (Do you like that?) So it was 15 miles till we could take an exit and reverse direction, and finally get to Plymouth, well past our expected arrival time.
By now I was livid with the pair of them, so we had a meeting in the lounge of the hotel after checkin. I read the riot act. If they did not settle their differences by the morning city tour, I would dismiss them both and contact head office in London for a new driver, coach and guide. Until they arrived I could get by with a local coach and guide. They were stunned! I made it clear that they were totally expendable, and if they were dismissed, the news would rapidly go right through their industry.
No more problems, but I was so glad to get back to London for 5 days peace and the Chelsea Flower Show.
In future tours the tour manager was always selected first, and then we found a driver that they liked to work with – no more problems!
If you want to hear more about what really happens behind the scenes of group tours, then grab my book The Toast is Cold for just AUD 3.99. You’ll get lots of laughs and be well entertained. It is available on Amazon as an ebook. You don’t need a Kindle reader – just download the free app on Amazon and you can read on any device – laptop, ipad, tablet, phone even.
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