Polar Tourism Guides Association

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Q&A with Graham Charles, president of the Polar Tourism Guides Association

What types of work do members of the Polar Tourism Guides Association do? 

Guiding in polar regions across all platforms of the polar tourism industry.

Can you describe some typical environments that they work in, and the challenges that come with these environments?

Polar! A lot of changing conditions with ice and weather moving around (especially maritime-based operations with ice in the sea). Rapid changes in plans on land due to weather and wildlife (polar bears) and a lot of ambiguity. Non-standard operating procedures happen often, so guides are encouraged to embrace situational management as a key skill area.

What is the Association all about?

Any professional represented by the PTGA will have contractually embraced our Polar Tourism Qualifications, Code of Conduct, environmental ethos, and concept of professionalism. They will understand how these fit not only into the broader culture of polar guiding and the organisations they work for, but also where these concepts come from, why they exist and where continued development can be obtained.

What types of skills and expertise do members typically use in the work they do?

Driving zodiacs is a key skill area as any vessel visiting the polar regions can only disembark people and go and see things if they have zodiacs and drivers. Leading short hikes and interpreting the wildlife/landscape is also a critical part of the job. The rest of it comes down to the somewhat intangible situational management of risk.

What was involved in gaining your ISO certification?

We finished the review process in September 2018. It involved an initial consultation to see if this was a worthwhile project or not, and then a very useful exercise - the pre-audit, identifying all the requirements and where they were in our systems and paperwork, and fixing any holes we had BEFORE the audit.

Then we went through a couple of rounds of feedback from the auditor, and answered a few more outstanding issues, then we were done.

Regardless of the ISO end-point, the process improved our systems and what we have to offer our membership.

Why was an ISO standard important to your organisation? 

Bona fide acknowledgement through independent third party vetting. We wanted to be the first organisation or company in the global polar tourism industry to put ourselves up for measurement. To show we aren’t afraid of measurement and that done well, it means we all get better. We wanted to role model this because we expect to test and measure our members, so we wanted to show that it is our culture, and not only for them to go through.

How did you find the working relationship with Qualworx?

Excellent, timely, on point.

What advice would you give to other adventure tourism businesses or bodies, that are embarking on an ISO certification process?

Having an external perspective and review of your systems and procedures can only make you better. Do it.

Matt Phillips