Outdoor adventure led by skilled guides has always had the potential to reduce tourism’s environmental impacts (e.g. “That’s too many people on that trail!”). But can guided tours make tourism safer during a pandemic?
Pre-COVID-19, guides interpreted natural history and taught appropriate behavior, while local economies benefited from dollars spent on the value-added service. Miles Phillips, Associate Professor at Oregon State University, thinks organized tours may have a new role. “I work with rural communities in coastal Oregon and they have mixed feelings about reopening to tourists due to concerns they may bring the virus with them. There’s an opportunity where small group travel, maybe families or intact groups, have the opportunity to be part of the early recovery plan.”
Phillips has been passionate about the economic and environmental benefits of professional guide training for decades. He developed programs for Texas ranchers looking to diversify, and the Guide & Outfitter Professional Training Program (GORP) in Oregon. With the recent pandemic pause, Phillips offered online courses to the Kyrgyz Association of Tour Operators in Kyrgyzstan completed by 11 people. “Kyrgyzstan does not have any guide accreditation. Upgrading for international content gives a big advantage for future guides,” explained Mansur Abylaev, Baibol Travel CEO.
Perhaps going forward, we can lean on local experts to travel where we’re welcomed and in ways host communities endorse.