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April 6, 2019

Polar Tourism Guides Association (PTGA) Update

Polar Tourism Guides Association (PTGA) Update

Quirky’s Heidi Sarna had an e-chat with Graham Charles, president of the Polar Tourism Guides Association (PTGA), a US-based non-profit industry association servicing the standards and competency needs of polar tourism operators, field staff and guides across all platforms of polar tourism. We first spoke to Graham when he started the PTGA nearly two years ago (article here), and below is an update of the PTGA’s progress and initiatives.

Polar Tourism Guides Association (PTGA) Update

PTGA President Graham Charles enjoying some time out of the office in his own polar back yard. * Photo: Jerry Johnson

QuirkyCruise: Since we last spoke in Sept 2017, I see a few more lines have come onboard as members of PTGA, including Polar Latitudes, Antarctica21, Silversea Expeditions and Aurora Expeditions. Do you expect more to join?

PTGA President Graham Charles: We have had a number of companies express interest and seek further detailed information. These companies are clearly looking to the future and see that transparent accountability to guide minimum competency is impossible to ignore. Clients, insurance and authorizing bodies will soon demand it.

QuirkyCruise: What feedback have you gotten from the industry? What have you learned in the past 2 years since you started PTGA?

PTGA President Graham Charles: Feedback has been exceptional. We have now moved into a phase of active assessment of guides. Our “Workplace Based Assessment” model is working in the always changing and time demanding environment of expedition cruising and polar tourism operations.

We are constantly evolving as we create this platform in a space that has never had one. We listen to the needs of our Corporate Members, we make change. We listen to our growing pool of Assessors, we make change. We look at ourselves at Board level and make change.

The PTGA achieved ISO (International Organization for Standardization) status last year after a rigorous audit of our material and this lends undeniable credibility to what we are doing and how we are going about it. We are in the final stages of our legal acceptance at the federal level (we have state exemption) for tax exemption and to be federally recognized as a Professional Industry Association. This doesn’t impact our stakeholders much, but shows we are serious about our presence in all aspects of administration of the Association.

We have had our annual “Qualifications Review” and are about to draft a raft of changes to our “Qualifications Framework” to reflect a year’s worth of trial and development of our assessment tools. 

Our “Recognition of Current Competency” grandparenting scheme finished in October last year with a rush of applications. A number of senior guides are asking that we consider opening this gateway again for a limited time. We are still clearing the backlog of applications and will give it consideration once this is done. We learned that polar guides are spectacular procrastinators (no surprise really) and will respond in the dying seconds of an offer.

Further, we have hired a social media manager to create a stronger social media presence and we’re also running the Polar Guides Group Facebook page.

Polar Tourism Guides Association (PTGA) Update

Senior Polar Guide Cam Walker leads a group on a snowshoe adventure on the Antarctic Peninsula. * Photo: Chris Prudden

QuirkyCruise: For those lines who haven’t joined yet, what is the reason?

PTGA President Graham Charles: I don’t see any theme in the reason people haven’t joined yet. The reasons are as varied as the number of people out there. Some of it is education and awareness — some people say they have never heard of us even after 2.5 years and now some good traction in the social media space. Others are procrastinating and waiting to see what happens. All this is common with something new like the PTGA.

Polar Tourism Guides Association (PTGA) Update

A young guide practices navigation skills in Svalbard. * Photo: Graham Charles

QuirkyCruise: Do you work with the Expedition Guide Academy (EGA) and Ben Jackson?

PTGA President Graham Charles: Yes we work with the EGA. Ben is an assessor and Senior Guide with the PTGA. And a number of their courses on offer work to PTGA competency levels and EGA can also offer assessments and legitimately administer our qualifications.

The PTGA isn’t a training organization, we are the testing body. To this end we encourage providers like the EGA so that when we get emails from guides looking to upskill in a particular area or get assessed in a particular qualification, we have quality providers to send them to.

It’s a great initiative. 

PTGA president Graham Charles teaches a class in Leadership theory and Teaming for A21 staff. Photog: Mariano Curiel

PTGA president Graham Charles teaches a class in “Leadership Theory and Teaming” for A21 staff. * Photo: Mariano Curiel

QuirkyCruise: Has the Polar Tourism Qualifications (PTQ) framework changed?

PTGA President Graham Charles: We have published our draft “Polar Bear Environments” award and have a couple more awards in development. This award offers a lot to northern polar guiding in light of events in Svalbard last season and questions that were asked about minimum levels of training and competency for guides working in polar bear environments. Our other awards are also more relevant to the north polar regions and terrestrial based operators.

Our team has recently reviewed everything about the framework, and amendments will be published by the end of May.

Polar Tourism Guides Association (PTGA) Update

A guide gives a briefing after landing on fast ice. * Photo: PTGA

QuirkyCruise: Are there new and more challenges, given the expedition ship building boom is gaining momentum?

PTGA President Graham Charles: One of the fun things about this industry is the change that is going on so yes there are challenges and change going on every day and I personally am vitalized by this. We are our own association and thus are quite “fleet of foot” so we can respond to organically evolving needs much faster than other big industry associations.


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