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As savvy travel agents know, globetrotters are increasingly demanding experiences that provide a deep dive into a destination. And when it comes to tours, finding operators who use knowledgeable, local guides can help elevate a traveler’s trip — and cultivate a long-lasting relationship with your client.
Country Walkers, which provides guided and self-guided walking tours and is part of the recently rebranded Xanterra Travel Collection, knows this well. That’s why the award-winning operator guarantees that its trips will immerse guests in the culture, traditions, natural beauty and history of a destination. One way it does this is through expert guides, such as husband-and-wife team Rene and Marie Janouch, who lead the company’s Czech Republic: Vienna to Prague tour.
The Czech couple, who have been guiding together since 1999, aim to fully satisfy guests. They do so by staying up-to-date on changing travel trends and helping clients connect with their culture through personal touches — for example, Rene arranges a feast at the home of an old friend in Tabor, where the two live.
“The most exciting part of guiding is to work as a mediator of enjoyment — to share, to help, to inform, to enable all guests to enjoy the tour on the highest level,” Rene said.
We caught up with the Janouches to find out how they keep tours fresh after nearly two decades of guiding.
What are some of the tour’s highlights?Marie: We are immersing in the land while walking: — you might choose the joy of walking and conversing with others; or just walking and breathing in the atmosphere, observing the locals without worrying about getting lost.
Rene: Both Austrian and Czech territories are neighboring countries, so they have a lot in common, but there are many substantial differences. Guests can experience two different cultures without having to travel hundreds of miles. One day, you can walk through Czech villages, have a homemade lunch and visit a small museum that shows traditions of rural peasant life. Another day, you can explore the largest castle in the world in Prague. The tour is full of what we call UPS: Unexpected Pleasant Surprises.
Additionally, flexibility is the main feature of this tour. You can walk 7 to 9 miles per day, or you can walk 2 to 5 miles if you feel “this is enough today,” because all walks are fragmented into segments, where one segment is to walk from one village to another.
What have been some of your most memorable experiences while guiding clients?Marie: The reason I love guiding for Country Walkers is the interaction with other people —those out of my comfortable, national or European bubble. And I hope it is a mutual enrichment, in terms of sharing recommendations of books, music, travel destinations and even food recipes. Some memorable experiences include that one guest proposed to his long-term girlfriend while on a tour, and two people got to know each other on a tour and got married later.
Rene: As a tour goes on, you can see the incredible results of team building and how guests start to trust one another — they share stories, they help each other in various situations, they arrange dinners together and so on. And it all peaks at our farewell dinner: Some guests give speeches, and some even present poems that they composed in their free time.
How does guiding together as a couple elevate the experience for clients?Marie: I hope that the way the two of us complement each other in our private life translates into how we guide. Plus, there is a bonus of the “reality show” element: Guests witness the real life of a family, because sometimes either a dinner or a walk features one of our sons or grandparents.
Rene: We are together all the time, and this enables us to discuss all related tour details frequently, and if something has to be altered or changed, we can flexibly solve it. It also adds value to the tour experience; it is always a big bonus if guides can somehow interactively show aspects from their private life.
You’ve been guiding for nearly 20 years; how do you keep the experience fresh and new for clients (and yourselves)?Marie: Things develop, people develop, guides mature, the countryside changes, the terrain changes and the time flies quicker as we get older — because of that, the structure of our Vienna to Prague tour is very different than the one from 20 years ago.
Rene: To some extent, it is a classic struggle — a person ages and tends to be more conservative, preferring old “certified” formats. However, a guide should not lose flexibility and must respond to changing trends.
Two years ago, I regularly took guests to the Museum of Communism in Prague. I enjoyed it very much, because the history of communism is one of my favorite topics. But the demand for themes is changing, and the history of communist societies has become a bit of an obsolete topic. And I had to react: I'm not going to take guests there anymore. Instead, I try to draw the attention of guests, for example, by pointing out the current means of superpower rivalry. I also try to discover new sociocultural themes.