The guiding and hosting story

 

Guiding and hosting is a core part of the activities undertaken by the Friends of the Wellington Botanic Garden. This organisation, set up to assist the Garden in many ways, was established in 1990 as an incorporated society. One of the fundamental objectives was to run a guiding service within the garden. Very quickly a group of some 20 people was formed interested in doing this, and training was undertaken, and tours were organised. As managed today it is similar to the original concept.

The late Rob Bos as Guiding Co-ordinator at the time, noticed that when cruise ships were visiting Wellington there were many people in the garden. As far as I can ascertain in December 1997 he went up to the Cable Car entrance, and found many people, many not knowing what to do on their visit. He rapidly identified that a meet and greet service was required, with information on what to see, how to see it, and the services etc. provided in the garden in demand. After that Christmas a roster was established, and the guides commenced providing a service that has been, and still is, valued since then. Where possible 3 or 4 guides were rostered, and short tours around the garden provided on demand.

At the start some 27 ships ships arrived. The numbers , however, quickly increased, to the stage where now there are some 90 ships over the season, providing passenger capacity of some 220,000 people; last season over 170,000 actual passengers arrived in the city. The ships keep increasing, both in numbers and size, and this put major pressure on the Friends resources over recent years.

The increasing numbers of visits and pressure on volunteers resulted in a reduction of the number that could be rostered each session, and our ability to run short tours became difficult if not impractical. To maintain the service the decision was made in 2008 to appoint hosts to assist. These in the main where people who did not have the detailed garden knowledge and training of the guides, but who nevertheless had a good general knowledge of the garden, what to see, where things are etc. Where possible, a guide was always rostered with a host, to ensure the more detailed knowledge was available to visitors if required. The introduction of the hosts certainly was a success, and enabled the Friends to basically to maintain the service, although few short tours could be completed. To provide a better working environment and place to rest and store items, the Friends provided a shelter in 2009 for those on duty, by the bucket tree, a facility that has been greatly appreciated by all.

The ever increasing number of visitors continued to stretch resources significantly. The creation and maintenance of the roster became a major and time consuming undertaking. For the 2012/13 cruise ship season we realised we could no longer provide the required coverage, and the decision was made to combine with the Wellington Cultural Ambassadors (WCA). The WCA's were established to provide detailed information on the tourist destinations within the city, and this they do well. While initially many did not know the Garden, over the last two seasons many are now able to provide a good level of advice on the garden. However they do not fully appreciate that compared with their usual operating areas, we are a destination, which demands a different level of advice. For this reason it is imperative that guides and hosts with garden knowledge are on duty to answer garden specific questions, and having such people on duty each day is important. Garden people are also advised to tell the WCA of their desire to only work in the garden, and wear their garden name tags to show their garden connection, both for the information of WCA's and visitors!

With many visitors coming up on the Cable Car, going to the lookout and then to their coaches, the objective is to focus on those wanting to walk the garden. The type of advice sought is in most cases general, and with more arriving every 6 to 10 minutes, time permits only brief discussions. A general estimate of the numbers the garden guides and hosts actually make contact with is some 30,000 visitor plus over the season.   For the 2013/14 season, recognising that we do not have the resources to run tours from the Cable Car Entrance, hosting guides operated in the Treehouse/Main Garden area on a trial basis. This was very successful, and without the same pressure of numbers, provide the opportunity to have longer discussions with visitors and answer garden specific questions. New colourful and distinctive approns have been prodiced (see image) to show visitors where they can obtain good information from official garden personnel.   With guides in these areas provided with better identification this season, the service is significantly enhanced.

Over recent years the guiding and hosting activities have tended to become separated. However we are ALL involved in promoting the garden and assisting visitors, and the operations are complementary. To maximise the effectiveness of these activities we need to all work together for maximum effect, as the knowledge and skills are complementary. The guides monthly9 tours contact under 1000 visitors annually, whereas an estimate of hosts/guides direct contact with visitors is over 30,000 over the cruise ship season, and that is only at the Cable Car entrance. All guides and hosts are encouraged to become involved, both at the top and in the Main Garden area. For new guides, the experience of dealing with cruise ship visitors is excellent experience for later guided walks.

This is one of the major activities of the Friends, a service appreciated by visitors fsrom the many comments received, but perhaps not fully understood or appreciated by members. We can always provide a position for new guides and hosts! There is plenty to do! The Garden fully supports  this activity, providing uniforms and administrative and practical support where necessary, which is most appareciated.