As a purveyor of elevated travel experiences, EXP Journeys strives to deliver unparalleled service to our clients because we recognize that every trip holds the potential to become a lifetime memory. In fact, we are so passionate about creating these lasting moments for our guests that we made it our mission – “to open up this amazing world and make every journey a once-in-a-lifetime experience.” That has a nice ring to it, but what does it actually mean, and how do we ensure that our mission is a living, breathing thing and not just something that looks good on paper? The answer is actually quite simple – by applying the same focus and dedication to employee recruitment and training as we do to every other aspect of our business. Walt Disney once famously remarked that “people can feel perfection” and at EXP Journeys, we take those words to heart. So, whether it is planning an opulent escape for our guests or training the individuals who will lead that excursion, we leave no stone unturned in the search for the perfect travel experience.
Operations Specialists McKenzie Ranson and Toni Reinbold experience a client-favorite UTV tour with EXP Guides Will Payton and Carter Atkinson during 2023 guide training in Utah.
Our clients return to us time and time again for their bespoke itineraries because they understand that what we offer is so much more than travel bookings and accommodations. People don’t hire us to make reservations for their luxury vacation. They can do that online. The reason people want to work with us is that we offer an experience that cannot be easily purchased or arranged. Something different. Something meaningful and lasting. Something with which they can amaze their friends. Something their kids will tell their kids about. What we offer is the opportunity to connect with friends, family and co-workers in exotic locations and off the grid locales while experiencing the same level of attention and hospitality that one might expect from their favorite restaurant or in the home of a close friend. And the best way that we know to give you that type of travel experience is through our guides. As one travel agent put it – “No matter how spectacular the setting, the guests come back talking about the guides.” Because of this, we’ve made it a priority to elevate and promote the role of the guide to a noble and aspirational career. That is how we attract the world’s best talent and deliver the world’s best adventures.
In this edition of the EXP Journeys blog, we are offering you an insider’s glimpse into the world of an EXP Journeys Guide and the intensive training and development that goes into ensuring that your guides exude unparalleled professionalism, with an emphasis on building authentic connections.
Guides Collaborate To Find The Best New Routes
Toni Reinbold, McKenzie Ranson, and Andrew Finn Experience A Mock Luxury Picnic From The Guide Team.
EXP actively recruits talent year round and pulls its guides from a wide variety of locales and backgrounds. On your next EXP vacation, you may meet a guide from Arizona who left behind a lucrative career in the financial investment world to pursue a calling that is closer to his heart. Perhaps your guide will be a husband, father and brother who holds an MBA and is particularly passionate about surfing and soccer. Or maybe you will be paired with someone who made the decision early on in life to pursue the guide lifestyle and as a result has traveled and led guests to more than 60 countries and has the scars and stories to show for it. Regardless of who you have the pleasure of traveling with, you can be assured that they are on your trip because they deeply love what they do and want few things more than to share that love and passion with you and your travel companions. Anyone who is a music or art lover will tell you that they can feel someone’s passion for their work when they experience their creative outlet. Guiding is no exception. Ask anyone who has been on an EXP Journeys trip and they will tell you how their guide’s devotion and energy for their work radiates through every fiber of the experience. From how they address their guests to how they handle challenging situations, our guides’ love for their life calling shows through in everything they do.
An excited team ready to EXPerience an all-time client favorite – a Tower Butte landing.
Our guides are the face of our business, and their interactions with clients can make or break a guest’s experience. This is why EXP Journeys believes it is crucial to invest time and resources into training our guides to ensure that our team is equipped with the knowledge and mindset necessary to provide the highest level of service. So, without further ado, let’s delve into the different topics that our employee training program covers while showcasing some skills and practices that we have found to be crucial to guest satisfaction.
At first glance, it might seem that a travel company would focus on teaching its guides basic skills such as first aid, natural history and geology. While EXP Journeys recognizes and values the importance of these components and works with individuals who have strong working knowledge of these areas, guests don’t typically rave about their guide’s mastery of the geology of the Kayenta Formation or their ability to treat a blister. What they do rave about is attention to detail, thoughtful touches and professionalism. Thus, our guides have already demonstrated knowledge and experience of these aforementioned building blocks before we shift the focus of our training to the soft skills that truly elevate the luxury travel experience.
Our approach to developing these soft skills is threefold. We emphasize ease, creativity and expertise. As you will see, these arenas are simultaneously distinct and overlapping and address the most important components of hospitality and service.
The Guide Team assessing view points and route options in Bryce Canyon National Park
Have you ever been out to dinner at a bustling restaurant on a Saturday night and noticed that your server was stressed out? How did that make you feel? What about checking into a hotel while the desk clerk is trying to handle multiple phone calls and a line of impatient guests? Could you feel the tension? At some point in most of our lives, we have encountered someone in a stressful situation and felt that person’s anxiety begin to grow inside of ourselves. That is not a good look from a customer service perspective and it leaves a subtle bookmark in our psyche that we tie to that experience from that point forward. At EXP Journeys, we train our guides in simulated stressful situations so that they know how to plan for and anticipate those sorts of environments.
While certain aspects of a trip such as the weather or the number of visitors at a crowded national park on a holiday weekend are out of the guide’s control, there is one thing which every guide can and should have a solid command over – their mindset. Here a few tips that we instill into our guides:
- Prioritize Safety Above All ElseSafety is our number one priority. Hands down, no exceptions. Whether it is an icy stretch of trail or roasting s’mores over an open fire, EXP Guides are taught to constantly monitor and survey their guests and surroundings to ensure that no trip is derailed by a preventable accident.
- Exceptional Attention To DetailNo detail is too small. Walt Disney knew this. So does your EXP Guide. That is why you will find chapstick and sunscreen in your vehicle. It is the same reason why your favorite granola bars keep reappearing now matter how many of them you consume. We anticipate, we plan and we focus on the small things. If you do those things for your guests, you find that the big things have a way of taking care of themselves.
- Always Be PreparedMany of us are familiar with this heeding from days in Girls or Boy Scouts. What suited us well as young people is still relevant today. That is why your guide knows the plan, has their Plan B memorized and keeps Plan C in their back pocket just in case. This does not just take place on your trip either. It is drilled into our guides through the use of mock simulations carried out in real time in the exact national parks and recreation areas where our trips operate. Unexpected changes and delays both play a part in this practice that each EXP Guide must go through before being ready to lead a trip of their own.
At the end of the day, there are many components of effortless ease that we seek to instill in our guides but perhaps the best encapsulation of this practice is conjured by a vision of a calm and serene swan gliding effortlessly across the surface of a mirrored pond. Everything appears at peace and the swan looks content and calm but if we were to take a peek under the surface, we would see legs and feet furiously paddling and steering the bird in its intended direction.
The Snake Oil Salesman waits to deliver a rare experience at an Old West event in southern Montana.
At EXP Journeys, we are constantly seeking out sources of information and insight. Just as our guides come from varied backgrounds, we look to diverse sources to complement our ever expanding knowledge base. One of our favorite quotes about creativity comes not from an artist or a writer. Rather, we find wisdom and guidance from a 20th century theoretical physicist with a wild head of hair – “Creativity is seeing what others see and thinking what no one else ever thought.” Are you starting to see a pattern here? We set ourselves apart from our peers by doing things differently and we do things differently by thinking differently. Our secret sauce is creating the kinds of experiences no one else has even thought of and that in turn leads to moments that people will never forget. Along the way to creating those timeless moments, we look to three guideposts to steer and inspire our journey.
- Expect the UnexpectedWill Guidara of New York City restaurant fame tells a story about how his staff at Eleven Madison Park once put some quarters in a parking meter for a group of guests whose dinner had run longer than anticipated. This simple act made such an impression on those diners that Will and his team adopted the habit from that point forward. Guidara remarked about this decision that “Systemizing it changed from an act of heroism into a matter of course like checking your coat or offering a dessert menu. And the more normal it became for us to give this little gift, the more extraordinary it seemed to be for the people receiving it.” Anyone who has been a guest on an EXP trip will tell you the creative, small touches are one of the hallmarks of our luxury travel experience. Whether it is a cold towel after a hot UTV ride or your water bottles magically refilling themselves, the small, unexpected touches are an integral part of every EXP journey.
- Out of the Box ThinkingThis category is something almost everyone is familiar with as it is an overwhelmingly common, albeit somewhat simplified approach. In other words, it sounds easier than it actually is. Let us give you an example of this type of thought approach in action – a few years ago, a small family was vacationing in Yellowstone National Park and the youngest member of the group was particularly intrigued by the bison they saw on their wildlife tour. One of the guides on the tour noticed this interest and purchased a small, plush bison for the child and this stuffed animal quickly became the honorary mascot of the trip. Unfortunately, when the family departed for home, the bison missed the wake up call and remained tucked underneath the crumpled sheets and blankets of the youngest’s bed. When the guides discovered the bison left behind, they knew they needed to mail the stuffed animal back to the child. But, before they did, they toured the most popular spots in the park and photographed the child’s beloved toy against backdrops of waterfalls, geysers and even living, breathing bison. In the days leading up to the bison’s arrival in the family’s mailbox, the youngest child received text message updates from her beloved animal showcasing highlights of the park and remarking how they looked forward to their eventual reunion. A simple, thoughtful, personalized approach to solving a mundane problem. Thinking outside of the (FedEx) box. Literally.
Guide Connor Phillips leads clients into Labyrinth Canyon at Lake Powell.
At EXP, we believe that our professionalism is unparalleled, in no small part due to an emphasis on building authentic connections. We foster these connections by instilling prowess and proficiency in our guides. For example, our guides possess the deep field knowledge to wax eloquent about the flora and fauna you observe on your afternoon hike, but they also have a firm grasp on knowing the specifics of when to be quiet or disappear altogether. Another component of our guide’s expertise is the ability to relate to a wide variety of individuals in different contexts. Whether it is a guest, a travel advisor, a young child, a vendor or their own co-workers, EXP guides are taught the ins and outs of fostering authentic relationships with everyone they meet along the way and time is often the best teacher in this regard.
As you may have deduced by this point; ease, creativity and expertise are not distinct components of an EXP Guide’s toolbox. Rather, they serve as overlapping and intertwined skills that depend upon and are enhanced by a deeper understanding of each other. The whole is indeed greater than the sum of its parts.
We hope that you have enjoyed this in-depth look at the training EXP Guides receive. If you are intrigued by what you have learned and would like to see the finished product in action, we encourage you to reach out now to book your next guide-led luxury excursion.
Toni Reinbold, Andrew Finn, Maxie Johnson, and McKenzie Ranson experience the WOW Factor of landing on Tower Butte for the first time.