She is a one-woman army for the promotion of Omani female tour guides. She maybe one of the biggest promoters of female tour guides in Oman, but don’t call her a ‘female’ tour guide – she may not like that. But, Wisal Al Rashdi, a very enterprising young Omani lady with a bright and unwavering vision for Oman’s tourism, wants more women to join the industry, especially as tourism guides.
Just call me a tour guide
“I don’t like to label myself as a ‘female’ tour guide – simply a tour guide,” Wisal Al Rashdi, a certified general guide (*) in Oman, tells the Black & White online. “Anyone who has the willingness, motivation and skill set to become a guide can apply to the ministry of heritage and tourism, get licensed and join the industry,” says Wisal Al Rashdi in response to queries.
One-woman army for tour guides
Today, in the Omani tourism industry, Wisal is a one-woman army for the promotion of women tour guides. She has also started an Instagram page this.guide in a strong bid to encourage more women to join the industry. In this page, she helps share the experiences of other female guides and discuss topics relevant to tourism. “Since starting my Instagram account this.guide I have had enormous support from Oman Tourism College and my followers who have been very active through my talks and Instagram live sessions. I appreciate all the opportunities I have had so far and look forward to the future,” Wisal enthused.
Tour guide job empowers you
Reports claim that, “there are only 27 female tour guides in Oman”. Is it a lack of potential or passion that prevents women from becoming tour guides? Is it a lack of opportunities? But as the saying goes in tourism guide circles, by becoming a tour guide, where “you can use language, leadership and business and guiding skills,” it will most certainly help you “become an empowered woman”. Although there is less number of female guides in the tourism industry, it is just a matter of time when things will change and more will join this fraternity, Wisal believes. And like a true leader, Wisal hopes to be in the forefront of this change.
In this pandemic season, the way out for tourism in Oman would be to focus on the domestic side of it – your opinion?
It is very important for us to seek ways in which we can rebrand market and plan the way we portray Oman in the current market. You will already notice the introduction of “staycations” and discounted hotel stays. Activities are aimed at both locals and residents in Oman and there is diversity in the range of activities offered.
You are a licensed Omani tour guide – could you give us a glimpse of the pre-COVID tourism scene and the current and also perhaps an idea of how the post-COVID tourism scene would look like?
The pre-COVID tourism focussed largely on cruise ships and tourists coming to Oman through different cruise lines. This created a sense of “seasons” where most guides would refer to this large influx as a popular tourist “season” in Oman. Oman is very geographically diverse and with the right resources we can have the same level of tourists coming to Oman all year round. In my opinion, the post COVID tourism will focus largely on local tourism and growth in the adventure niche market, which is already being noticed online.
You are a tour guide – is this your profession or a passion?
I have a separate fulltime job. I am a guide during my weekends and free time because I love getting to know different people from different cultures and want them to have a great experience when they visit Oman!
Are you a freelancer or working for any particular travel and tour office?
When I first started, I worked for different companies but now I also freelance. I do prefer working for a company though to support the work they do and because of my schedule.
A female tour guide – what are the advantages and disadvantages of being one?
I don’t like to label myself as a “female” tour guide — I am simply a tour guide. I believe that anyone who has the willingness, motivation and skill set to become a guide can apply to be licensed by the ministry of heritage and tourism and join this industry. There are many advantages but also challenges for guides. As a guide, I represent myself, and my country to visitors. I also get to meet different people all the time. I always say that time management and the ability to plan efficiently are two very important skills in the guiding industry. The challenges can be dealt with provided that the guide is highly resilient and able to deal with situations in a calm and sensible manner.
You said you started your Instagram page to attract more lady tourist guides – although you are only a few months into it, how successful are you in your endeavour?
The idea to encourage more females to join the industry has been on my mind for the past year. My initial plan was to organise small face-to-face coffee gatherings to encourage a few of my friends and acquaintances to join the industry. The COVID pandemic changed those plans and I decided to go online instead and continue with the same idea but on an Instagram page. I feel that it is equally important to share the experiences of other female guides and to discuss topics that are relevant to tourism. Since starting my Instagram account this.guide I have had enormous support from Oman Tourism College and my followers who have been very active through my talks and Instagram-live sessions. I appreciate all the opportunities I have had so far and look forward to the future.
Why do you want Omani women to be tour guides – in the sense, is it because of the money; is it a very sound career to be part of; is it because of the enjoyment of meeting people or taking people around to new destinations, or just the thrill and adventure that you see in it?
I noticed that we don’t have enough female guides in Oman, and I started to do some more research to find out why. I want women to be equally represented in the tourism industry and we do see a lot of women in different sectors in Oman. I would love to be able to work alongside other females and for them to feel the confidence and motivation they need to try this out. I sometimes felt like I needed that kind of support when I first started, and I would like to be able to provide that to young women and women in general who are willing to explore the guiding industry. I have been asking my followers to connect me with as many female guides as possible. I have met a few online who are amazing.
How have your talks/workshops etc progressed?
My talks have led to many discussions online and on a corporate level. I have been able to connect guides to each other. People from different sectors with people in the tourism sector and connect with local organisations who expressed the willingness to hire more female guides and to explore ways in which they can do that with me.
Tour guide – that is not an easy job. There is a lot of responsibility involved (of course, all jobs have responsibilities involved), risks and perhaps even danger. What attracted you to this profession? Are any members of your family or friends tourist guides?
I grew up outdoors and my parents made sure we spent most of our childhood exploring Oman. I have been to a lot of places in the country with my mum and dad. There are many different types of guiding and I am certified as a general guide. This means that I can take tourists on tours that involve known tourist attractions as well as cultural experiences. The field of tourism I have chosen is different than adventure tourism so the level of risk is minimum and it is very rare that an accident or an injury is caused during my trips.
How many trips have you made as a guide and any memorable trips that you can recollect?
I have been on numerous trips and I haven’t really counted to be honest. I enjoy smaller trips (private tours) with small families or solo female travellers as I get to really connect with the tourist and get to customise their trips with them. Muscat tours are my favourite. I have done the most number of tours in Muscat.
What have you learnt during this COVID-19 period? How will you impart the lessons learnt into your profession?
This pandemic pushed me to start a meaningful initiative in the tourism industry. I have been planning to do something like this for a year. It has taken me a year to make the decision to go online and to publicly talk about topics that are important to me and other guides. I have also realised that it has connected me to a world of tourism that is beyond my imagination with endless ideas and opportunities for future projects. I have formed many friendships and partnerships through my online account. I look forward to what the future brings.
(*) Wisal got her tour guide license in 2019.