VUSSC/Content/Tourism/Applying Effective Communication Skills/Effective communication

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After completing this section, you should be able to:
  • Define communication
  • State the reasons for communicating in a tour guiding context

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Think about the last time you chatted with a friend.
  • Was your message clearly understood?
  • What do you think effective communication means?
  • Take a few minutes to jot down your ideas.
  • At the end of this section, try again to explain in your own words, what you think effective communication means.
  • Compare your initial definition with your new response and observe if your ideas have changed

1.1 What is communication?

First, let us look at how other people have defined communication.

You may look at this link for some definitions:

You may identify the key words used to define communication by different authors. In this course we define communication as the act of sending and receiving intended messages. Effective communication implies verifying that the receiver had understood the message as intended and subsequent response is observed. It is something that tour guides do every day, so how we communicate is very important. In this unit, you will learn about the reasons why communication is so important in tour guiding operations, the process of communication and the barriers that prevent effective communication.

Concepts of communication

Competency: Demonstrate understanding of the basic concepts of communication for tour guides

Key concepts of communication for tour guides:

Effective communication:

tourist: Someone who travels for pleasure and recreation, to a place other than where they normally lives. The purpose of the travel and stay elsewhere, could be for health, sport, holiday, study, religious, business, family, mission or meeting reasons.

tour guide:

tour commentaries:

barriers of communication:

1.2 Reasons for communicating

As a tour guide, communication will be your basic tool in performing all your daily functions.

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Look at the following suggested reasons for communicating in a tour guiding context and reorganise them starting with those you feel are the most important.

To inform, clarify and advise. You will use communication to present your country to tourists. As a tour guide you will have to answer many questions, handle queries and present information to tourists. Among these types of information will be :

  • giving directions and commentaries;
  • explaining procedures and itineraries;
  • providing advice on safety and security; and
  • describing tourist attractions.

Communication will also help you inform the tour group to prepare themselves for the tour, through relevant advice on personal belongings for a tour, preventative medicines and available services at tourist destinations. It will also help you to avoid confusion and misunderstandings. Sometimes there are unexpected events that can force the tour guide to change plans, and these changes of plans have to be communicated to the tour group as soon as possible, to get consensus on alternative itineraries.

To promote and persuade . Communication is also the tool you’ll use to promote the tourism products and services of your country, such as the destinations and events they will visit and enquire about. Remember, tourists visit your country in order to see what attractions the country has to offer and to perceive and experience the country from your perspective. As a tour guide, therefore, it will be your responsibility to motivate and reinforce the tourist’s interest in your country. Your commentaries are the « eye » through which tourists will see the country and you are the representative of the people of your country.

To build relationships. How well you communicate with your tour group will determine the success of the tour and how successful you are in your career as a tour guide. Conversations help to develop rapport which will build interpersonal relationships This is important for sustaining the tourism activities.

To evaluate your services. Communication will enable you to collect relevant feedback from the tourists with a view to gauging the interests and expectations of the tourists. This feedback obtained can be communicated to all concerned. From this you will be able to explore ways of improving subsequent tour activities.

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Below is an excerpt from a conversation a tour guide had with one of the tourists in his tour group. Read it carefully and then answer the questions that follow.

On Tuesday, Satish conducted a tour for a group of 13 tourists from different countries from around the world. He took them on a tour of a sugar museum and botanical gardens. During the luncheon break he started chatting with one of the tourists, Sue:

Satish: Hey Sue. Where are you from again? Sue: Oh I’m from Trinidad and Tobago…a beautiful place... like yours. Satish: Do you know that today is a national holiday here? It is a Christian holiday celebrating the assumption of the Virgin Mary. ‘Cause we are multicultural, we celebrate numerous religious festivals. Sue: Oh really? So do we! In my country since we have lots of Hindus, Muslims,and Christians we have a whole host of religious festivals as well. For example we have something called Hosay – a Hindu festival. Do you know it?


  1. Does the above communication form part of the job of a tour guide?
  2. What do you think were the reasons for the above communication. List at least 2 reasons and justify your response.

1.3 Key concepts of the communication process in tour guiding operations

The communication process is also known as the communication model. This process is not very complex, but consists of nine elements. Two of these elements involve the major players in the communications process - they are the sender and receiver. Another two are the major communications tools – these are the message and channel/media. The following four elements are the communication functions, and these are: encoding, decoding, response and feedback. And the last element is a factor that can hinder the process at any stage, and that is noise. The figure below shows all the elements in the process of communication: The process by which be communicate involves the transmission of a message from the sender to the receiver, through a channel or medium. Communication is a two-way process, because the receiver then responds to the message (we call this giving feedback) and in this way he/she becomes the sender again, and the person who first spoke/wrote, becomes the receiver (of the feedback communication). The definitions that follow will help you understand the diagram below:


Figure 1.1. The Communication Model

Source: Kotler, P. & Armstrong, G., (2001), Principles of Marketing, Prentice-Hall International, Upper saddle River, New Jersey, 9th Edition.

Sender: A person sending a message to another person. This person begins the communication process. The sender has a responsibility to formulate a message that will communicate exactly what he/she means. This involves the use of communication symbols that will convey this meaning. The sender in tour guiding operations can be both the tour guide who presents tour commentaries and explain attractions, and the tourists who ask questions or make comments.

Receiver: The receiver is the person (for example the colleague or tourist) to whom the message (or communication) is directed. In tour guiding it can both be the tourists who are being addressed by the tour guide, or the tour guide receiving questions from the tour group.

Message: The reason for the communication process. It is the idea or information that the sender wants to pass on to the receiver. This is the encoded set of symbols that is conveyed by the sender and which consists of both verbal and non-verbal symbols that the sender wishes to transmit. The sender must formulate the message with clear language or symbols which will be easily understood by the receiver and which the receiver will be able to interpret accurately and respond to. The sender should also provide room for feedback in the message.

Encoder: The sender puts the message into language, symbols or signals, which may be understood by the receiver. The process of formulating the ideas of the message into meaningful symbols, words or signs, is known as encoding. It is important that the sender must encode the message in a way that it will be recognized and understood by the receiver, in order to make sure the receiver gets the message as intended by the sender.

Decoder: The decoder is the person who interprets the message and its meaning. So this is also the receiver of the message. Decoding is the process by which the receiver translates the symbols or words of the message into information that is meaningful to themselves. The process and success of decoding can be influenced by several factors, including a difference in perception and experiences between the sender and the receiver, as well as their different attitudes and what they already know about the topic of the communication. Different receivers could decode the same message differently, because of each one’s unique perception.

Channel: The channel is the medium through which the message is sent – for example whether it is sent verbally (by word in face to face or telephonic conversation), written (by writing such as memos, letters, faxes, e-mail) or signaled (by hand or other symbols). The channel carries the message from the sender to the receiver. In tour guiding operations the channel can be both verbal (for example tour commentaries or tourist questions), non-verbal (the tour guide or tourist’s body language supporting the messages) and print and electronic media (newspapers, television, internet, magazines, maps and brochures used to develop the tour guide’s commentaries).

Feedback: The message has an effect on the receiver in terms of how they think it was intended, and they give a response (reaction) back to the sender based on the meaning they attach to the message. This response is called feedback. The feedback can be verbal, written or non-verbal. Even silence is non-verbal feedback, although it is often hard to interpret and can be misunderstood because it can either mean indifference, acknowledgement or a lack of understanding of the message. Because of all the different ways silence can be interpreted, this is known as negative feedback. It is important for tour guides to design feedback methods in a way that would encourage understanding and positive feedback. These can be done by encouraging comments and questions from tourists during a tour and feedback questionnaires or other evaluation methods following a tour.

Noise: As we have already seen, noise hinders effective communication throughout the communication process. Noise can be from the external (surrounding) environment, such as from too many messages at the same time or background noise that interferes with a clear understanding of the message. We also refer to some receiver characteristics as ‘noise’, and this is where their emotions, ethnic background, age, education level or disabilities may distort or make a message misunderstood. Noise in communication, is any distraction that interferes with the proper transmission of communication, so that the message from the sender cannot reach the receiver as it was intended by the sender to be understood. It is a major communication barrier, as we will see further on in this discussion. In tour guiding for example, noise can be the background sounds of animals at a site while the tour guide is explaining the attractions. It could also be the accent of the local tour guide, which may make it difficult for the tourists to understand the message he/she is trying to convey.

Remember! It is important that all senders of communication must keep in mind who their target audience is, so that they can focus the message accordingly. The sender should know what the receiver’s perception is, so that the encoding can be in line with the receiver’s experiences. The sender should also use the appropriate communication channel to reach the receiver and invite feedback, so that they can confirm that the message was understood and appropriately responded to.

Features of effective communication in tour guiding operations:

Communication is as much a matter of human relationships, as it is about transmitting facts and this is particularly true in tour guiding. How do we know when communication is effective? It should contain most of these features:

It encourages more fulfilling interpersonal relationships. This can be between the tour guide and the tour group as a whole, between the tour guide and individuals in the group, and individual tourists among each other. It also encourages a good relationship between the tour guide and other members of his/her work team, including the tour operator, bus driver, other support staff and service providers.

The tour is a success! This means that the tourists’ expectations are fulfilled, they leave happy and contend, and you can be sure that they will encourage others to take tours offered by your company. Your successful communication has ensured return business for the company, and this means more profit for the company and promotion in your career as a tour guide.

Feedback received from tour members is positive and enthusiastic. Again, this will help your company a lot when marketing and advertising the tourism products you offer.

An important feature of successful communication is a better understanding among those participating in the communication. As long as communication is open, it will always improve understanding, regardless of differences in viewpoint. Communication does not always have to be aimed at convincing someone else to change their viewpoint, but if effective, it will increase understanding for one another.

Effective communication also improves knowledge. Information and ideas that are communicated, help us to collect more knowledge about lots of things. In tour guiding operations the tourists learn a lot about a country and its features, while the tour guide also learns about the different types of tourists.

Effective communication is clear. There is no ambiguity (vagueness or confusion) about what it is the person is trying to convey. The tour guide can try to make his/her communication clear by using short sentences in simple language, but still providing enough information to ensure a clear understanding of what is being said. Active listening also adds to clarity of communication, so always show that you are listening, and provide feedback to others during communication.