Guiding is not only about guiding

8 November 2019

Ishmael Mogamisi is passionate about two things: guiding, and teaching – so we’re really glad he decided to combine the two and lead a new generation of Desert and Delta safari guides. He talks to us about guiding – and what it takes to be a great guide.

Ishmael Mogamisi. Photo by Mana Meadows

“I always tell guides: ‘your attitude is your visa to excel. Your attitude will make you a better person’. We have very good guys, but if you have a bad attitude, that doesn’t mean anything,” says Ishmael.

The head of guide-training has been training guides for the last eight years and before that was involved in all aspects of the company. A long-standing member of the Desert and Delta Safaris (DDS) team, Ishamel has been with the company for over 28 years. In his words (he has a way with words) “I’m part of the furniture and gum poles around here. When I get eaten by termites, that’s when I’ll collapse!”

The former pilot (he got his pilot’s license before his driver’s license!) became a guide while trying to decide whether to go for his commercial pilot’s license. Tourism and conservation had long interested him and in the end the call of the bush was too strong. In his pattern of doing things differently, he got his guides license before his driver’s license and reminisces about working at Chobe Game Lodge where he could only do water-based activities until he got his driver’s license. Since then Ishmael has catapulted through the DDS ranks – working in management amongst all the camps, guiding and finally coming back to do what he really loves – combining his love of teaching and mentoring others with guiding.

Ishmael’s guide training involves a combination of in-house training and outside instructors where needed – as in the case of weapons training carried out earlier in 2019. Currently Desert and Delta have 37 guides, including polers and trackers, spread between their camps.  Ishmael says that although he can often find individuals who can guide – the added dimensions of being passionate about nature is a quality that is essential.

“Ambition has to be there. Do you do this job to earn money or because you’re in love with it? If you’re in love with it in this industry it will show – because the guests with their comments will prove it.  So that’s how I weigh a guide – just passion.”

“And guiding is not only about guiding,” cautions Ishmael, highlighting that young guides need to learn this quickly. He believes that its mostly about reading people, and catering to what they’re interested in. That, and always being your very best self and taking pride in your conduct and appearance.

“Ask yourself: ‘How do you welcome them? Address them?’ First impressions count: watch your uniform and your body language and how you present yourself. Don’t make the guests regret coming to Botswana! So I normally say, ‘be yourself, know what you are doing – don’t take shortcuts – don’t do guesswork – don’t lie. If you don’t know the answer just say, standby and I’ll find out for you.’” Above all, Ishmael highlights that it’s about being honest, with your guests as well as with yourself. “Be yourself and understand your guest first, before you try to take them out.”

Ishmael on the deck at Chobe Game Lodge

It’s a sensitive job with no shortcuts. He stresses that the second important element to guiding success is paying attention to the guest. “What do they like? What are they interested in? Do they want to see big cats or are they birders? Do they like big mammals? You can only know through interaction – find out where they’re coming from and the adapt accordingly. Don’t go on about hippo in they’ve already heard it all in Vic Falls and Chobe. When you’re telling them something, look at them – are they interested? How do they respond to your comments? You have to understand that this job is about understanding people and not only wildlife.”

The nuances of the job can be difficult for beginner guides, which is something that Ishmael acknowledges wholeheartedly. Knowing when to strike up a conversation or when to keep quiet and let guests chat amongst themselves is something that can only come with experience and he urges learner guides not to be disheartened.  “At the beginning when you haven’t dealt with international people before it can be difficult,” remarks Ishmael. “So we do a lot of training about guests – what are their expectations? What are your expectations as a guide? Hosting is very important part of in-house training – learning the Desert and Delta way when it comes to hosting.

Ishmael has one closing piece of advice: “Lastly, don’t forget discipline – they need to be self-disciplined.”