"Tourism has stolen my attention."
The Lord of the Rings movies got rave reviews from the critics and moviegoers across the world. Now Hobbiton Movie Set Tours itself attracts similarly rave reviews on TripAdvisor and other sites. Just as Aragorn guided the hobbits on their quest, today Sarah Collins guides groups of excited visitors through the hobbits’ Shire, a memorable experience for the millions who have taken the magical tours.
Sarah got the opportunity to work at the famous attraction when she left school. It was just going to be a fun job earning a bit of money over the summer holidays before starting university in the new year.
But like the powerful allure of the ring, the magical movie set held a magnetic attraction for Sarah, who after two years gave up studying biology and psychology to pursue a career in the booming tourism industry.
Now 22-years-old, she’s into her second year at Hobbiton Movie Set and training to qualify to become a senior tour guide.
Studying for her tourism qualifications takes place on the job. In fact, an important part of her training involves completing the ServiceIQ NZ Certificate in Tourism (Visitor Experience) Level 3.
It’s an induction programme used by many of New Zealand’s leading tourism businesses to give staff essential introductory skills to work in tourism. And it’s compulsory training for all the team working at the Hobbiton Movie Set Tours.
Almost one hundred staff have gained the qualification and others have gone on to advance their skills with ServiceIQ management programmes.
For Sarah, the training has been invaluable in her development to become a tourism professional.
“Having to write down what you do and describe each of your processes makes you think about how to develop your approach to make the experience better for visitors,” says Sarah.
“For instance, I started paying attention to my non-verbal communications and now I’m much more aware of what I am doing. I hold myself more confidently and I know how to project my voice. My whole presentation is a much more polished,” she says.
“I also thought about what kind of tour guide I wanted to be. A factual guide or a storyteller? Or a mix of both plus some humour because I’m always catering to groups, most of who are there for a good time.”
The programme was also an opportunity for Sarah to refresh her health and safety know-how, and she’s developed handy techniques, such as how to keep a tour group of up to forty plus visitors together as a team when some charge ahead and others straggle behind.
Just as great actors helped bring the epic stories to life for the audience watching the movies on the big screen, it takes a great performance by guides to be able to lead a group and hold their attention throughout a two-hour tour.
Studying drama at school helped Sarah feel comfortable talking to large groups and deliver an entertaining presentation, “even though sometimes I’m a bit too confident and not as funny as I think I am!”
Knowing your product in detail is vital, but perhaps especially at Hobbiton Movie Set where movie buffs and experts on the Tolkien books come from the world-over to experience the closest thing in real life to Middle-earth.
Today she knows the movies pretty much off by heart and she constantly re-reads the books.
“We get two types of fan, some who are never impressed with our knowledge because they know it all, and others who are always impressed with everything,” says Sarah.
A typical day’s guiding usually starts at 8.30 in the morning at Shire’s Rest, an official gatehouse for the movie set. Sarah familiarises herself with the run sheet – an itinerary for one of attraction’s many tour options. She meets the visitors, collects their tickets and takes them a couple of kilometres down the road on the shuttle to the mythical land of Middle-earth. From there, it’s time to escort the group around the 12 acre set, past Hobbit Holes™, the Mill and into the world-famous Green Dragon™ Inn, where visitors enjoy an exclusive Hobbit™ Southfarthing™ beverage. Along the way, the guides show off the intricate detailing of the set, point out the most famous locations and explain how the movie magic was made.
At the end of her “performance”, Sarah gets a lot of great reviews from visitors. But the best reviews are the connections she makes on tour, getting to know the visitors and the things they are interested in seeing.
In some ways, it’s a dream job literally, says Sarah.
“When I started dreaming about the place, Mum said I was starting to master the job. I was having dreams about all the things that could go wrong on tour. Someone would always go missing or the most ridiculous dream was an apocalyptic zombie event where we had to act fast to get visitors off set. But Mum said I was just preparing for when things don’t go exactly as planned.”
“I really enjoy working at Hobbiton Movie Set and the opportunity they are offering me. One day, I may look to hosting the big events we hold for niche audiences, such as weddings, conferences, birthday celebrations.”
Sarah recommends training on-job to others looking to build a career in tourism.
She says: “Don’t limit yourself to the one role and instead, always put your hand up for the training your employer is offering. You can take your career much further that way.”
Plus, there’s the considerable advantage of being able to earn as you learn which is perfect says Sarah, especially having come from university with a student loan looming over her head.
“This way, knowing that you’ve got a pay cheque at the end of the week makes me open to study, and learn new skills and knowledge relevant to the role. When I was offered on-job training I didn’t think twice about saying “yes”. It’s a no-brainer.”
To Sarah, it’s all a magical journey.
The guides need to be well versed in the lore and have the right answers at the ready for even the most esoteric of questions.
Sarah has done her homework. Starting early in life. She first saw the ‘Lord of the Rings’ trilogy with parental guidance from her father when she was eight-years-old. She gained a better understanding of the plot when she watched it all again at age 12.