Rwandan Guides Share Nyungwe’s Beauty with Guests

Nyungwe National Park in the distance is surrounded by tea fields and eucalyptus groves that support local cultural communities.

Nyungwe National Park in the distance is surrounded by tea fields and eucalyptus groves that support local cultural communities.

Nyungwe National Park is nestled in the southwest corner of Rwanda, a nation roughly the size of the state of Maryland. Nyungwe is several hours south of Volcanoes National Park (VNP) of “Gorillas in the Mist” fame. VNP brings people from all over the world to northern Rwanda, but some manage to also find this emerald forest in Nyungwe by Lake Kivu.

We first visited Rwanda in October 2012 at the request of USAID. Our assessment of the visitor experience and park guides’ skills led to this USAID supported trip to conduct NAI’s Certified Interpretive Guide (CIG) course for thirty guides in two class groups and the Certified Interpretive Host (CIH) course for individuals from seven partner organizations within and around the park, including community cultural programs, lodges, and World Conservation Society (WCS) along with Nyungwe’s chief wardens and reception personnel.

We completed the first CIG course on January 24th and I think we enjoyed the five days as much as the guides and learned much from them. We added a day to the usual four-day training in recognition of the language and cultural challenges and we probably could have used several more. All of Nyungwe’s guides speak English well, but Kinyarwanda and French are the preferred languages of several of them.

CIG Class at Nyungwe National Park Jan. 2013.

CIG Class at Nyungwe National Park Jan. 2013.

The guides performed admirably and thirteen earned the CIG credential in the first course. They know the birds, trees, and primates of this incredible landscape quite well, but the social science and communication techniques of the CIG course were mostly new to them and they took to the requirements eagerly. We saw incredible examples of thought-provoking thematic presentations in the 10-minute performance portion of the course. They are rightfully proud of having earned the credentials.

As we said goodbye to what we know will be new lifelong friends, we turned our attention to a day of regrouping before tackling the CIHost course. We spent part of our day off with Hope (Espoir), one of our CIG students, who took us for a short

Angolan Colobus monkeys live in large family groups in this tropical rainforest.

Angolan Colobus monkeys live in large family groups in this tropical rainforest.

walk in the tea fields near Gisakura at the edge of the rainforest. We were met near Nyungwe Forest Lodge by a woman tracker, who took us up close to a troop of 45 Angolan colobus monkeys. For two hours we watched them as they moved closer and closer to us out of curiosity, until they were only about ten to twenty feet away. Then the tracker urged us to move back toward the tea fields where she had spotted a Mona monkey, one of the thirteen species of primates in Nyungwe we had not yet seen. The Mona had a beautiful expressive face and brought our total to nine species of primates viewed in this remarkable forest. We took about 1100 photos and video clips through the magic of Nikon 3200 and D40 cameras, including colobus monkeys jumping from tree to tree and interacting with mountain monkeys that entered their feeding area. It was amazing and Hope’s interpretation of it all was heartwarming. He brings just the right blend of stories, time to observe, questions and personal enthusiasm to the conversation.

This single Mona monkey travels with 45 Angolan Colobus as an accepted companion.

This single Mona monkey travels with 45 Angolan Colobus as an accepted companion.

It turned out to be one of the best days I have ever enjoyed in the outdoors. As we walked with Hope back to the reception office, we were simply overwhelmed by the experience. It started to rain just as we approached the Gisakura Guest House, where a cup of hot coffee and a delicious lunch was waiting. We have been profoundly touched by these hospitable people and the rich landscape where they work.

Nyungwe is two and a half hours from Kigali, the capital of Rwanda, and only a few miles from Democratic Republic of the Congo and Burundi. It boasts thirteen species of primates including chimpanzees, 1016 species of plants, 278 species of birds and dozens of endemics (found only here). It is a naturalist’s paradise, but it is much more than that.  Its mission statement reflects its global and regional significance and emphasizes a balance between conservation and tourism. Here, you can stay at beautifully located lodges surrounding the park, walk the trails with well-trained guides and relax with the amazing hospitality of the Rwandan people.

The painful civil conflict of almost two decades ago is not forgotten but peace and reconciliation have been the practice of this nation in recovering. It is a safe place to visit and Nyungwe provides incredible trails, waterfalls, dense montane rainforest, rich wildlife and unique cultural experiences.

 Mountain gorillas are the attraction in Volcanoes National Park in northern Rwanda.

Mountain gorillas are the attraction in Volcanoes National Park in northern Rwanda.

They have protected and interpret more than 1,010 square kilometers of pristine rainforest for the future of their children and all mankind. This preserve protects more than 70% of the water used by the people of Rwanda and the headwaters of both the Congo and Nile Rivers, relied upon by hundreds of villages. Once threatened by poaching, gold mining and the burning of bee trees, the forest is now carefully managed to protect the biodiversity of the region and support local communities.

Rwanda’s gorilla tracking in the Virunga Volcanoes should be a bucket list trip for everyone in our opinion, but Nyungwe has much to offer also. If you get a chance to visit this friendly nation, do not miss Nyungwe National Park. You will be met by talented and dedicated guides, who will be happy to share their forest with you.

–Tim Merriman

Beware the Memorized Spiel

I once attended a guided tour of a large, expensive visitor center for a major religious group in the United States. Elders of the church met people at the door of the center to offer a free, guided tour. I joined a tour and our group obediently followed the guide as he delivered what was clearly a memorized spiel. After twenty minutes on the very boring tour, I asked him a question. He glared at me, did not answer the question and explained to the group that he had lost his place and we would have to start over. Now my entire group glared at me, warning with their eyes – “no more questions.”

 

I have been asked many times by managers why it would not be preferable to develop a really high quality tour or presentation and require guides or interpreters to deliver it word for word. That may seem efficient and effective, but is it? I think it’s easy to make a case against it for the following reasons:

 

  1. A canned spiel shows no respect for the audience. You are presuming that one size fits all. You are not adapting to each unique audience to make it more interesting. You are certainly not being an interpreter because the interpretive profession is built on knowledge of and adaptation to each unique audience. Will a group of visiting scientists enjoy and understand the same program as a group of high school students?
  2. Where’s the passion? It takes an amazing actor to give the same presentation over and over in the same words and sound enthusiastic. Memorized presentations usually sound incredibly wooden, lacking the authentic passion and voice of the presenter.
  3. Will it be sustainable? Most places that give guided tours “burn out” their guides to some degree. Burn out is faster when the guide has no free will in what is said. Memorization requires being faithful to the script instead of the audience and results in the problem my guide had with losing his place and having to start over.
  4. Questions are usually not welcomed from the audience or appropriately used by the guide in a memorized presentation. If you ask only rhetorical questions with no expectation of a real conversation, people soon tune out and may simply leave. If you do not allow your audience to ask questions, you are less likely to provoke any further thought or action about your subject that will help you accomplish objectives.

 

Training guides and docents to respond flexibly and present thematically will yield a more sustainable result in virtually every situation. Guides and interpreters enjoy their work and stay with it longer when they are respected for their abilities. Giving information in a rehearsed format has proven to be much less effective in helping people connect to a resource than engaging in a good conversation as part of a thematic tour.

 

If you need assistance training guides or interpretive staff, let us know.  We will be happy to help. It’s an investment well worth making.

 

– Tim Merriman

 

A Motivation by Any Other Name

I have questions about visitors, clients and customers. Who are they? What do they want to do? What do they enjoy? What kinds of experiences appeal to them? Is it enough to know their age group or their family status?

My grandson, Tim, explores the jumping dance with the Maasai.

My grandson, Tim, explores the jumping dance with the Maasai.

Many planners have spent many decades developing visitor experiences with market segmentation approaches that are easy to understand but do not really inform the planning process. Classifying people as seniors, empty nesters, families, yuppies, tweeners, and the like will give some general information about them. It does not necessarily suggest what interests them, or what types of experiences they prefer.

In recent planning workshops, we’ve been introducing participants to the Why Zoos and Aquariums Matter study by John H. Falk, Eric M. Reinhard, Cynthia L. Vernon et al. This report uses motivations to determine market segments at interpretive sites. Although it’s certainly not the only way to look at market segmentation, and not the only one we use for every project, this is one approach that might useful in thinking about facilities and programs being planned for some situations. The segments, in the researchers’ words, are as follows.

Explorers” are curiosity-driven and seek to learn more about whatever they might encounter at the institution – might spend more time and get more involved – potential volunteers often come from this group.

 

Lisa shares the Serengeti experience with Lou, her mom.

Lisa shares the Serengeti experience with Lou, her mom.

Facilitators” are focused primarily on sharing the experience with others – parents and grandparents bringing children, locals bringing friends from out of town.

 

Professional/Hobbyists” feel a close tie between the institution’s content and their professional or hobbyist passions – might enjoy going “behind the scenes”.

 

Experience Seekers” get satisfaction from the fact of visiting this important site – often want a photo taken of the guest with the resource behind her or him.

 

Lisa enjoys the "sensualist" or "recharger" time in Ngorogoro Crater with an old bull elephant.

Lisa enjoys the “sensualist” or “recharger” time in Ngorogoro Crater with an old bull elephant.

Spiritual Rechargers” seek a contemplative and/or restorative experience – may want to just sit or walk and enjoy without interpretive signs or messages.

Susan Cross, a very experienced planner in the United Kingdom, shares her thoughts on segmentation in TellTale, her planning blog’s article, “A simple, successful approach to visitor segmentation at heritage attractions.” Susan credits the research behind the approach to Morris Hargreaves McIntyre – Lateral Thinkers, a cultural heritage consultancy group that suggests using a motive-based segmentation approach with categories similar to that suggested by Falk’s zoo study.

Sensualists seek emotional and spiritual rewards – For Sensualists ‘just being there‘ is enough. ‘Taking in the view‘, ‘becoming one with the past‘,’ finding peace and harmony in nature‘, ‘experiencing beauty’, ‘finding inspiration‘ are the rewards these people want from their visit.

Intellectuals want to find out more. They hear or do things that relate to their interest and probably talk to people who share their interest and can answer their questions. Intellectual Visitors want to pursue an interest. They may be novices or experts but they are interested.  They wish to learn more, increase their knowledge, improve their skills, see, hear or do things that relate to their interest and probably talk to people who share their interest and can answer their questions.

Mealtimes are great social times to get to know fellow travelers from Czech Republic.

Mealtimes are great social times to get to know fellow travelers from Czech Republic.

Social Visitors are building relationships and want to spend enjoyable time with family and friends in a pleasant and interesting environment. They like sharing experiences, talking to each other, finding new things to talk about, conversations with other people, and good visitor facilities.

Exploring Families are adults visiting with children. They too want to spend quality time together. It important that this includes shared activity and some discovery and learning.

If you were to correlate the categories across the two approaches, you might find that “intellectuals” seem similar to “professional/hobbyists.” “Sensualists” seem similar to “spiritual rechargers.” “Exploring families” seem to include the “facilitators.” “Social visitors” remind us of the “experience seekers,” although Falk’s study mentions that the social aspect of the visit may be secondary to having the experience. The in depth “Explorer” motivation in the zoo study is not in the four categories of the British segmentation. I still like it to describe that person who will take the behind the scenes tour, sign up to visit a paleontological dig or become that devoted volunteer.

Experience seekers want those special photos that remind them of the unique place and time.

Experience seekers want those special photos that remind them of the unique place and time.

We led an ecotour to Tanzania in 2010 and we were examples of all of the categories at various times. Some times we were “experience seekers” or “social visitors” just taking a quick look at the Oldupai Museum where we took photos of ourselves with the exhibit that showed the original trackway that so intrigued the Leakeys, or sat around the campfire sharing stories from earlier that day with fellow travelers. We had brought Lisa’s mom (age 81) and my grandson (age 14) along to share the experience, and so we could very often be considered “exploring families” or “facilitators” since we had taken this trip once before and were eager to provide tips to enhance their enjoyment. We became the “professional/hobbyists” or “intellectuals” when chatting with facility managers or biologists along the way. Certainly, everyone on this kind of safari in the Serengeti is an “explorer.” It is expensive and has some elements of danger so those without the explorer interest are more likely to catch it on the Nat Geo TV show of the same name from the safety of their armchairs. When time permitted, we turned into “sensualists” or “spiritual rechargers.” It was great to sit for two hours by the hippo pool and just enjoy their unique social interactions, sounds, and smells. No explanation was necessary to be completely engaged by the zen of hippo watching.

I tell this story of our Tanzania tour to make the point that no matter which nomenclature you choose to use, people don’t always fit into neat categories. One person may be one type of visitor with certain interests or motivations in one setting, while having completely different interests or motivations in another. Similarly, groups of people probably have a blend of these category types within the group at any given time. Hippo watching recharges some people, while others become bored and drift away from the group to engage in a different conversation or activity.

Tim and Tim, grandfather and grandson with a lion in background, a memory for both of us we will not forget.

Tim and Tim, grandfather and grandson with a lion in background, a memory for both of us we will not forget.

As a planner, thinking about motivations of a visitor allows you to think about visitor experience design with these motivations in mind. Some places are just beautiful enough that they need no interpretive signs to make them better. In fact, the sensualists or rechargers will like it better if such places remain uncluttered with media. That behind the scenes tour may attract explorers or intellectuals to learn more. We can even design places for the “experience seeker” or “exploring family” to have their picture taken with a great cultural artifact or giant clamshell. It is often more challenging to design a compelling experience for a 50 to 60 year old African American female from a city who makes $65,000 a year. We usually find that some combination of geographic, demographic, and psychographic information in a market analysis provides better information with which to make informed decisions about the proposed experiences. But each planning situation is a little different and which market segmentation approach is most appropriate for which situation will depend on a variety of factors.

Whether these two segmentation approaches represent convergent evolution in planning or a situation of having read each other’s studies, the fact that both have emerged as planning tools is a good thing. Our guests do not represent only age groups or economic groups. They are real people with interests that may change even in the middle of an experience. And if we’re paying attention, we can plan ahead to accommodate that.

– Tim Merriman

Collaborate, Leverage, Partner and Package

41eulYJlfoL._AA160_When I lived and worked in Pueblo, Colorado, as a nature center director I had the opportunity to participate in a community collaborative planning group that really produced for all of us. I have written about it before in blogs and in our book, Put the HEART Back In Your Community.

Too often collaboration is driven by one government agency or organization. Sometimes it is a mandated process to involve others. Often that does not really feel like collaboration. It feels more like, “They wanted to say they had listened to stakeholders, but they don’t really care.” True collaboration among stakeholders has a very democratic feeling about it. In Pueblo, representatives of diverse interests met monthly to share ideas, leverage grants, plan joint projects and provide support for any applications made. It resulted over many years in creation of the Historic Arkansas Riverwalk of Pueblo (HARP).

In 1993, I worked for Tennessee Valley Authority at Land Between the Lakes (LBL) National Recreation Area as Manager of Research and Innovations. Managing the Biosphere Reserve (BR) Program was part of my duties and that included the creation of a BR Cooperative with social, environmental and economic stakeholders. We convened meetings regularly and I quickly heard the suspicion of other stakeholders that TVA would dominate the agenda. They were very used to government control and collaboration sounded like a ruse. It was not, but the dynamics of change soon led to LBL being transferred to the U.S. Forest Service and the cooperative collapsed before accomplishing anything.

Historic Arkansas Riverwalk in Pueblo, CO.

Historic Arkansas Riverwalk in Pueblo, CO.

I think collaborative planning works best when you see it as an opportunity to build a stronger organization or community with no agenda of control. You can be a catalyst for getting the key stakeholders together just by hosting a breakfast or lunch once a month. As soon as you exert CONTROL in some way, you are likely to lose the people who might otherwise participate.

Any time you submit a grant or proposal for funding with half a dozen or more organizations working together, you are more likely to be funded. When a grant requires matching funds, one partner may have access to money while another provides technical skills, such as GIS maps or landscape architectural drawings. As a nonprofit nature center director, I ended up being the grant writer for our group.

In Pueblo we did not include the for-profit participants that would have brought even greater strength to the table. We had city, county, and state governments and multiple nonprofits involved but could and probably should have invited the Chamber of Commerce and economic development interests that had their own collaborative groups.

This fishing dock at the Pueblo Nature Center was funded by a grant developed by the collaborative planning group.

This fishing dock at the Pueblo Nature Center was funded by a grant developed by the collaborative planning group.

One of the great benefits of a collaborative effort is the opportunity to develop partnerships and package services together to create more holistic experiences. Lodging, food, transportation and attractions like zoos, museums, aquariums and nature centers can create experiences that might appeal to visitors more than figuring out the logistics piece-meal.

A collaborative planning group could also work on a collaborative interpretive plan that unites the community or multiple partners behind a central message and community experiences. Too often we work alone when we could be working together with community stakeholders who might all gain from working together.

Some group or individual has to be the catalyst. Invite your logical collaborators to a meal and meeting. Bring them together around a chance to work on a challenge or grant together. Success in this effort is intoxicating. Once you land money or do a project together, you will most certainly want to do more.

-Tim Merriman