By 6am, Paul Turyagumanawe’s breakfast is served. He is in a hurry to go for the morning game drive, to catch the hippos grazing.
As a tour guide, he wakes up each day to prepare for the day’s tour activities. His checklist includes reviewing the guest list and coordinating with the chef to ensure that breakfast and packed lunch is ready for the tourists.
After graduating with a Bachelor of Laws in 2010, Turyagumanawe envisioned himself as one of the prominent lawyers of his generation.
Growing up, the likes of Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr and Patrice Lumumba were his role models.
But he would later give up on his legal dream after discovering passion for nature and starting a new adventure that would see him become a tour guide.
“I admired the lifestyle of tour guides. The first time I drove from Fort Portal City to Semliki National Park on the Rift Valley escarpment, I wanted to see more and let the whole world know what I had seen,” he recalls
He would later train as safari guide and was certified to drive tourists to destinations in Uganda, Rwanda and Eastern Congo. He has since acquainted himself with the history and cultures of different sites.
“I have been guiding tourists since 2016. I have spent these years learning rather than earning. I have had great experiences such as the hike to the top of Murchison Falls, mountain gorilla encounters and spending a night on top of an active volcano in Congo. In between are leopard kills and dangerous elephant encounters,” says Turyagumanawe.
His first client
As a freelance tour guide, Turyagumanawe’s hustle is like what they say about a swimming duck. Everyone sees the graceful duck gliding above the water but few imagine the hard work the legs undergo underneath the water to sustain the duck’s movement.
His first client this year was an American, with whom he shared a journey to Congo. He had hiked Mt Kilimanjaro on his trip to Africa but wanted to see the primates, the mountain gorillas and chimpanzees. He also wanted to spend his last night on top of the active Nyiragongo Mountain in Eastern Congo.
Turyagumanawe says he has gone through a lot as a guide. His journey is characterised by sacrifices including spending a long time on trips.
“The longest so far has been 10 days on a trip. Exhaustion set in around the seventh day. Missing family is the biggest sacrifice I have had to make in this business.
I miss the little moments with my family such as having dinner and playing together,” he says.
He has since made a resolution to take his family on a trip every year. That way, he can have at least one trip where he won’t miss miss his family.
Turyagumanawe was born on the escarpment of the Albertine Rift Valley and grew up eight kilometres from Queen Elizabeth National Park. During high school, he travelled back and forth from Kigezi highlands and the beautiful Ankole plains.
His safari life has taken him sailing on the Nile, trailing the Ishasha and cruising the Kazinga Channel. He has also hiked the Virunga ranges. He has come face to face with mountain gorillas and a playful chimpanzees in Kibale National Park.
Turyagumanawe has led trips in Rwanda, the land of a thousand hills, and also travelled to Congo. “I have been to as low as the male and female hot springs in Semliki (700m) and as high as the Muhabura peak (4127m). Standing on top of Murchison Falls and feeling the earthquake under the feet, the boat cruises on Kazinga Channel, tracking mountain Gorillas in both Bwindi and Mgahinga, have been nothing but unforgettable experiences,” he says.
Away from Safari life, Turyagumanawe runs a human capital development firm, Voices of Value Uganda Limited (VOVU) that specialises in team building, motivational speaking, and career guidance, child protection and life skills workshops for younger audiences. He does this as a service and ministry in his community.
Turyagumanawe believes material achievements are overrated and they are not his focus at the moment. Interacting with nature has boosted his confidence, built a strong network and helped him to embrace cultural diversity. “The greatest achievement has been the people I have met and the friendships I have created. I have guided some of the best guests that Uganda has had the privilege to host, such as Mongillo family from Switzerland whom I guided before the Covid-19 lockdown,” Turyagumanawe speaks of his achievements as a tour guide.
Turyagumanawe has enjoyed the exposure that comes with guiding tourists and the many doors that have been opened for him.
“I used to travel through this country, but I never saw what I see now. In fact, I used to sleep during most of my journeys. Today, I am more critical to nature. I believe there is a story to tell in every place I visit and that’s what I look out for,” he says.
Turyagumanawe’s job puts him in the front seat of the unexplored wild. He learns from the birds, from the lions and from a catalogue of people from all over the world.
Running a tour guide business is not a smooth ride for Turyagumanawe. He has met rough terrains but his passion for nature has kept him going. He has sustained his venture through undertaking professional training, reading and learning from the best.
He enjoys spending time in the wild just to learn about animals and nature.
He recently spent time in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest learning about birds and butterflies. During the Covid-19 lockdown, when the tourism sector in most countries was in recess, Turyagumanawe had a stint in birding that kept him busy. As a freelance guide, Turyagumanawe’s clients come through reputable safari companies.
“Yes, there are challenges in this industry, like in any other. The secret is in building your knowledge base, being patient and offer quality services to the customer. In the long run, a satisfied customer will refer you to an even bigger gig,” he says.
Challenges have taught Turyagumanawe great lessons. “Not all tourists are the same. Some want to eat everything, everywhere, with you. Others want to eat only from the finest places, without you. Some love the local people.
Others are only interested in wildlife and nature. Some will tip you, others will not. This is all okay. The best way to pull off a great service is understand that every tourist is unique,” he says.
Turyagumanawe has learnt that meritocracy and creativity are key in the tourism industry. “This industry has taught me that merit counts.
For example, I cannot get away with offering mediocre services to tourists. When someone pays for my services, they expect no excuses. They believe I am qualified, skilled and experienced to do the job. They expect nothing but the best, ” he says.
He says over the years, the tourism industry in Uganda has absorbed more professional talent and guests can be assured of quality experience. Turyagumanawe commits himself to doing a good job. “I believe that a country is as good as how well it treats its visitors,” he says.
Survival in the tour guide business
From Turyagumanawe’s experience, there are specific professional skills in which some guides have specialised, such as bird guiding or marine guiding, but the top general skills that are critical to survival in the tourism industry are soft skills, such as communication, interpersonal skills, negotiation, conflict resolution and positive thinking.
He also emphasises skills such as driving, explaining clearly and interpreting the history of tourist sites and different cultures and why they matter.
Turyagumanawe says the formation of small groups of friends to hire the services of an actual safari guide will boost domestic tourism. He says the biggest gift that tourism has given to Uganda is giving safari guides a platform to showcase Uganda.
He says honesty and working with reputable tour operators to know how they are run before you start your own business are key in this business.
What makes a tour guide tick
Most tour guides have a passion for travel. It’s only fitting. They want to live the dream and scratch off as many countries as possible on a world map. And working as a tour guide allows them to do that. But if travel is the only reason they go into guiding, they won’t last long.
Being a tour guide is tough. Sure, they get to show off the places they love and meet travellers from all over the world (outside of Covid times, of course), but they also have to work long hours, often on their feet all day, in the peak season heat, while dealing with demanding guests. It’s not for the faint of heart.
Being orderly, efficient, and dependable might be common lies listed on a resume, but are essential qualities of an effective tour guide. Guests shouldn’t have to wait around for a tour guide to get their act together. Everything should run smoothly from check-in to check-out.
Delivery is everything when it comes to tour guiding. Anyone can regurgitate a script word for word, but an exceptional tour guide can add a little bit of zest, make it their own, and take guests on a journey through storytelling.
Additional information from www.checkfront.com