Instant Tour: Make it Happen!
Sometimes you have to let your students go to see what will happen. After taking them on tours for several months, I decided that they had to design one of their own. They had to create a real tour based on community resources that I had introduced them to. Moreover, they had to introduce another group of students to the canals, rivers, and temples within Ayutthaya. They had to pass their the torch of learning onto the next round of students.
Every now and then, I like to surprise my students with an unusual test. I am not talking about typical vocabulary quizzes or multiple choice exams, but something more tangible to real life situations. In other words, I like to have my students physically try out material that we have covered in class to see what they have amassed.
Recently, I had my tourism students put a large scale eco-tourism project into action to gauge the results. Their assignment was to organize a boat tour for a large group of 30 people at a moments notice. This is no easy task. Students had to network within the local community to produce at least 4-5 long tail boats and to establish a set itinerary that included three temples that they have never visited before. The test was to see if they could make it happen.
The basic guideline was that they had three days to produce a three hour tour, which included three destinations for less than 300 THB per person. Naturally, students protested that they were unable to accomplish this task. They had adjusted to me being their tour guide on class excursions around the Ayutthaya province. In the past semesters, I have introduced them to local resources and educated them about various places of interest. However, I had to step back as a teacher and allow them to make it happen by themselves.
These students are 4th year tourism majors who are about to graduate with an official guiding license. It was time for them to build confidence in their own capacity. I had no doubt that they had the aptitude to design an original tour, but they had to learn to trust their own creative power. Therefore, they spent one day organizing resources, one day researching information about little known temples, and the final day was scheduled for our tour. I turned off my mobile phone as an added measurement, so they couldn’t call me for any help.
Behind the scene, I had a private test of my own teaching abilities. This large scale boat tour project demanded a great deal of multitasking, because I had to prepare two tourism classes in advance, as well as make complicated arrangements involving university administration and colleague teachers. One class consisted of the actual tour guides; the second class was comprised of the second year students who would be their passengers. I had instructed the latter group in architectural terms, which I could quiz them on during our tour.
Only 5% of this second year class had ever seen Ayutthaya by boat before, so they were about to experience their own city from the eyes of a tourist for the first time. I had to lift my own organization skills to a higher level in order to coordinate the event so they wouldn’t be disappointed. Still, this was a worthwhile endeavor just to learn how everything would unfold.
I meet with my students 20 minutes before the tour, so they could explain their itinerary in advance. Four long-tail boats were already lined up and waiting. The 4th year group had selected four interesting, but rarely seen temples: Wat Sala Poon in the north, Wat Takarong in the west, and Wat Ngang Kui in the south (Wat Cheong Tha was scheduled as the backup option in case another location didn’t work out). None of these temples are included on the normal tourist circuit, in fact they are nearly forgotten by all guidebooks.
All of these places have unique histories and a variety of artifacts that are worth viewing. The student research component of this test was gathering this information, writing it down, and preparing data for presentation. The passengers arrived at our boat dock after coordinating a makeshift transportation shuttle service. Before long, they were loaded onto the boats for a new experience.
It always amazes me when students see their city for the first time by boat. It gives them new perspectives about geography and their natural environment. They notice little details like the locations of places near their homes. There is also an excitement in being together as a group and sharing the experience. The tour guide students made their presentations and tried to set a playful mood. They did race through the English part of their assignment and lapse into Thai every now and then, but I didn’t pressure them about it. It would have killed the festive atmosphere and it was better just to let them practice.
In the end, the tour unfolded naturally anyway. The second year student pointed at architecture and recited vocabulary without my asking. Some younger students fell into the role of tour guides and explained information about Thai culture to me. Certain students rose to the occasion, and in the back of my mind I wondered about the potential for training them next. Therefore, it was nice to see one graduating class pass this information onto the next generation.
The tour guiding students proved that they could organize a brand-new niche tour for a group of 30 people and, if truth be told, they could have even doubled that number to include 60 tourists and 9 boats if that was required instead. They even stuck to the itinerary like clockwork (not a normal practice for Thai students). They also made new contacts and learned to network within the community, which are useful resources that can be used after graduation. Hopefully, students have built some confidence as well. They will need it if they continue in this field of work. Moreover, this boat tour project has even greater importance to Ayutthaya’s tourism industry.
The students produced something in a matter of days that local travel agencies have never thought of before, plus they successfully did this on a scale that is almost unheard of for local boat tours. The local travel agencies are reluctant to try anything new, but this test shows that niche tours can be easily put together locally on demand – and the tourism industry doesn’t need to rely on Bangkok. Tourists are starting to want different experiences and the freedom to design their own tours. Many like to travel off-the-beaten path. My students have proved that they can make it happen.