Our Training Ideas and Insights interview series offers a collection of tips, ideas, advice, and inspirations by and for trainers and training experts.
In this edition, Carole Favre, Owner and Founder of Small Matters, shares her insights into the "why" and "how" of training and professional skills development for tourism (micro-) entrepreneurs, particularly small tourism operators and destinations who work with them.
Offering a range of training workshops, mentoring services, and practical learning tools, Small Matters specialises in helping small tourism entrepreneurs in developing countries gain market access to earn a better living.
How do you support small tourism businesses? What problems and challenges are you addressing?
I work as a link between small businesses and markets. There are many workshops that teach entrepreneurs some basic business skills, but often it has no practical application to the business or the field the entrepreneurs work in. So whilst they are being taught what to do, they don’t know how to apply it so they can grow their business. That's why I focus on market access.
All I teach is actually informed by the tour operators themselves and by research on consumer behaviour / existing trends. I can then practically explain how the tourism industry works, what tourists are looking for, what needs to be done to design a product that can be sold to tour operators, etc. I put things into context and tell it as it is.
Small entrepreneurs learn what they have to change but most importantly why they have to change to be more successful. I give them the tools they need to build whatever they want, and in the way that best suits them. Crucially, I stay in touch with them, to help them when they need to. It would be totally irresponsible no to!
Why is training and professional development important for responsible tourism?
Wherever I travel, I find that a very large proportion of the people I meet and who work in tourism are not qualified, or not qualified enough to work as professionals. The truth is that generally, the tourism industry employs a much lower-skilled workforce than many other industries and it is therefore often ill-equipped to offer the experiences that tourists seek, to pre-empt and understand new trends and how to meet them, or to develop products that are truly innovative. I attribute this situation to two main problems:
a) One the one hand, many people (mostly in richer countries) love the idea of working in tourism because it’s fun and interesting – they buy into some kind of ideal that is motivated by seeking a certain lifestyle. However, running a restaurant or a hotel are real jobs that demand real qualifications, and too often entrepreneurs do not realise that (just look at the UK where most B&B and small hotel owners don’t have a hospitality or management qualification). As businesses, these ventures should have two aims: to generate a profit, and to provide excellent customer service because tourists spend a lot of money on holidays and deserve to be treated professionally.
b) On the other hand, many people (mostly in poorer countries) set up tourism businesses because they see an opportunity to make money, to get out of poverty. However, how many of these local entrepreneurs (the majority of them being small and poorly qualified) know how to develop products that meet the requirements of a clientele mostly originating from the west? They need help to access these markets so they can earn enough money to make a decent living.
So, whichever way you look at the problem, people working in the industry need more training to make the industry one that matters economically as much as any other (e.g. mining or banking), especially in the eyes of governments which have the money to support its development. Destination leaders need training to ensure they understand that tourism needs to be developed in a responsible manner, first and foremost for the sake of the destination so it can grow sustainably (to make better places for local residents to live in) and second, for the sake of the tourists, who are increasingly looking to experience more responsible holidays. Tourism entrepreneurs, on the other hand, need training to understand how to develop more authentic experiences, which will attract more high-spending tourists.
However, this "training" should not be about "teaching" but about "learning". By this I mean that the aim of any training is to ensure that the people being trained grow as individuals, and through their newly acquired knowledge, make decisions to better their future and the future of their communities.
“training” should not be about “teaching” but about “learning” - Carole Favre
What training methods and approaches are important for you? What has worked and what has not?
As I specialise in dealing with developing countries, I must ensure the way I communicate is very accessible, simple and does not require much infrastructure. The most important thing is to make people think so they complete their training with an action plan for their business. I very much favour discussions, debates and role-plays as well as group activities to generate ideas and questions.
In the UK, where I taught tourism for 12 years, "having fun" and using new technologies is a big thing – and it can work well, but I don’t believe in using innovative methods for the sake of being innovative.
Particularly with my work with small entrepreneurs and communities with relatively poor levels of education, it is crucial that I adapt: e.g. Whilst I use PowerPoint presentations (in a creative way) with groups of urban businesses, I may choose to visit rural entrepreneurs in person and give them more on-the-spot advice, by experiencing their product and coming up with an action plan over a couple of days. In the end, it’s all about what works for the trainee, not for the trainer!
As a trainer, what training mistakes have you made or experienced, and what lessons have you learned from them?
The biggest mistake you can make is misjudging your audience, because that informs all the material you develop. For example, I have designed activities that were equally too simple and too complicated. The problem is that what works with one group might not work with another, hence you need to be pretty flexible and quick to think about an alternative solution.
Good teaching always requires the trainer to design "stretching" activities, for those who are quicker and more able (so they don't get bored waiting for others), therefore I do prepare for that eventuality. Another common mistake is to run over time, which is why I do not believe in rushing things and in training to merely "tick the boxes". It is better to cover less and to be open to the learners about it. I don’t want to promise what I know I cannot possibly deliver at the standard I want.
Please tell us more about Small Matters and the people who benefit from your expertise.
My business is based on my experience, my character and my beliefs – nothing more, nothing less. I think that people matter more than anything else; thus I expect to work with people who know they can trust me, because I will also put my trust in them.
Apart from small entrepreneurs, destinations (through their government agencies) greatly benefit from my workshop and manual because my training package helps improve the quality of their tourism offering, resulting in increased customer satisfaction and exposure to other potential tourists. It also strengthens the destination image, especially if the country wants to develop responsible tourism products.
Tour operators and their local agents benefit too, as they save a lot of time if they only deal with professional suppliers who are ready for market and enable them to offer excursions that are unique and meet their clients’ expectations.