top of page

Report - Adventure Guides (Qualified versus Unqualified)

With the increasing number of people exploring the beautiful South African outdoor (including both domestic and foreign tourists), it is now even more important to ensure that this industry is safe and professional to ensure the safety of the tourists, enhance their experience and promote South Africa as a preferred tourist destination.


This can only be achieved by implementing and enforcing frameworks to ensure that the adventure guides engaging with the tourists are suitably trained, have the appropriate level of experience and infrastructure support.


The Purpose of an Adventure Guide

The first objective of all adventure guides is to make sure that they and their clients are kept safe at all times by doing the following:

  • Choose an appropriate activity and venue to meet and match the client's requirements and skill.

  • Have a knowledge of the area to be able to navigate and understand the inherent risks and therefore take appropriate preventative measures.

  • Have the appropriate technical skills and competencies to assist clients in performing their activities.

  • Knowing the emergency plan in the event of an incident.

  • Have sufficient first aid skills to provide pre-hospital care to an injured client until medical assistance arrives.

  • Provide and advise the client of the correct gear required for the activity, and how to use it properly.

  • Take accountability for the risk and responsibility for the safety of the client.

  • Ensure the client fully understands and accepts the risks involved in the activity and the possible consequences.

  • Comply with all legal, statutory and regulatory requirements.


Second to this, an Adventure Guide will:

  • Provide adventurers with a unique and exciting experience.

  • Protect the natural environment that they operate in.

  • Install a love and respect for the natural environment of South Africa.

  • Be an ambassador to our country; providing a good image of South Africa to international and local visitors.

  • Adhering to every aspect of the Code of Conduct as issued by the Department of Tourism, which every South African tourist guide signs upon registration.


Benefits of a Tourist Guide

Tourist guides in South Africa are some of the most important people in the travel trade. They interact daily on a personal level with tourists, and a toruist guide can make a holiday visit very memorable or very unpleasant. Which type of experience your clients go home with will depend on the way that you operate as a guide. It is important to remember that you are an ambassador when working as a guide. You represent the activity/sport you guide, the company you work for, the areas that you operate in, and when working with foreigners, the country as a whole. Having the correct skills to plan and execute an adventure-based experience will go a long way in showing you to be a good ambassador and a professional Adventure Guide. It will also help you have more fun in your job.


An Adventure Guide is a specific category of tourist guide. The definition of a tourist guide is: "Any person who, for monetary or another reward, accompanies people who are travelling through or visiting any place within a country and who furnishes those people with information or comments concerning a place, or objects visited, is defined a tourist guide" - Tourism Act no. 72 of 1993.


Furthermore, the 3 conditions listed below must be met to qualify as a tourist guide, obtain an identification card and badge:


  1. Register with the Department of Tourism Provincial Registrar, the provincial/regional "branch" of the National Government Department of Tourism. Be in possession of a certificate of competency, for the particular activity, issued by the South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA).

  2. Sign and adhere to the code of conduct and ethics provided by the Provincial Registrar.

  3. Be in possession of a valid first aid certificate which is from a SETA or QCTO registered service provider.


Becoming a Qualifed Tourist Guide in South Africa

In order to be registered as a legally qualified tourist guide, a person has to complete either of the following courses:

  1. The Generic Adventure Site Guide (GASG) qualification framework contemplated in the National Qualifications Framework Act, 2008 (Act No. 67 of 2008), which consists of the below:

    1. Online or Four to Five days of in-person training by a CATHSSETA-accredited training provider (skills development provider).

    2. Formative assessments for each of the unit standards being covered int he training.

    3. A practical assessment for a particular technical skill (i.e. limited scope mountain walking guide).

    4. A in-date first aid certificate.

    5. Assessments must be performed by a registered skills development provider.

    6. Regsitration with the regulatory authorities.

    7. Normally takes around 4 months to complete and has 40 - 60 credits.

  2. The Further Education and Training Certificate (FETC)

    1. SAQA QUAL ID: 71549 | TITLE: Further Education and Training Certificate (FETC): Tourist Guiding | NQF Level 4

    2. This is a National Certificate.

    3. Typically takes up to a year to complete and has 134+ credits.

    4. Can be done in context of Culture, Nature, and Adventure (when adding appropriate and specific unit standards).


Adventure Tourism, Risks and Legal Implications

(the below information is referenced to the waiverforever.com website)


The Adventure Tourism Industry lives and dies by its reputation. Ensuring activities are fun, thrilling, and safe. To bring in stellar online reviews and steady funnel of new customers boosting tourism and jobs in the country.

Risk is an inherent (and often desired) part of any adventure trip/activity. Given this, there are a number of instances where accidents have happened due to negligence on the part of the operator such as lack of training or the use of unqualified guides.


Below are some examples:


The above are just a handful of cases and all were predicated on negligence.


While participants in adventure activities must understand the risks and acknowledge the risks involved by signing a waiver, that is not a safety net against potential litigation. The conversation around risk management often centres on liability waivers and insurance - but a major component that is too often neglected is a focus on duty of care and this includes ensuring the guides are properly trained and registered with local authorities (i.e. legal guides).


Duty of care is the legal requirement for the adventure company and guide to provide reasonable care during potentially dangerous activities. Failure to provide a reasonable standard of care can leave the guide and guide company open to legal action, despite any waivers signed, if a court determines that a "reasonable guide" with proper certification/training and with the same circumstances would have acted in the same way, that may be considered not negligent. But if they acted recklessly and they did not meet the minimum safety standards for an activity, they may nevertheless be liable.


Duty of Care in Adventure Tourism involves:

  • Maintaining and replacing equipment to be in good repair.

  • Ensuring the facility/area is appropriate for the activity and skill level of participants.

  • Ensuring activities are well-supervised.

  • Ensuring you and your staff are qualified.

  • Ensure staff's first aid and other certifications are in good standing.

  • Restricting access to dangerous areas or actions not within the scope of your tour.

  • Managing and ensuring all third parties that they sub-contract to perform other activities not covered by themselves also meet these standards.


It is easy to become lax in maintaining all the above items when managing other aspects of an adventure business. But the investing in the safety of clients, the adventure tourist operator not only mitigates the potential of legal action of an accident, but also invests int he comfort and delight of clients.


Understanding Negligence

Despite best efforts, accidents happen during adventure activities. Participants likely sign a waiver stating that they understand the risks involved in the activity. However, a waiver on its own isn't an airtight defence - duty of care needs to be exercised and every precaution to keep participants safe.


Lawsuits against adventure companies are predicated on the allegation of negligence. Waivers are more likely to be effective against claims of ordinary negligence, which is the failure to take reasonable precautions, expected of a guide, to protect the safety of your participants.


Some examples of ordinary negligence include:

  • Providing equipment that is in disrepair.

  • Injury resulting from a lapse in supervision or improper supervision.

  • Staff who were involved in first aid treatment had expired certifications.

  • Not properly blocking access to dangerous or restricted areas.


Gross Negligence, on the other hand, is when an injury results from "extreme indifference to or disregard for the safety of others" (yet not "recklessness"). These claims, if proven, are more likely to result in successful legal action against your business.


Some examples of gross negligence include:

  • Providing inadequate or misleading training/orientation for an activity.

  • Failure to perform standard safety checks and procedures for an activity.

  • Allowing participants to perform an activity without protective gear.

  • Allowing participants to engage in a dangerous activity without a required certification.

  • Hiring staff that don't have legally mandated certifications for an activity.

  • Refusal of trained staff to provide first aid when required.


A gross negligence claim may also arise due to the mishandling of an incident. One example would be if improper first aid was provided despite guides being certified. The distinction between "gross negligence" and "negligence" is by no means clear. The particular circumstances and context will be taken into account by the court, in assessing this.


It is critical when running an adventure activity to consistently review safety policies, maintain equipment, conduct site training and first aid training, and ensure all qualifications of staff are up to date.


Ensure Proper Duty of Care Through Risk Management

Managing your liability can't be a scattershot approach - it must be a focus on the adventure and involve a set of policies and procedures that are regularly reviewed.


Staffing and Training

It's imperative that the industry invests in hiring quality staff who are experts in the activity provided, but also understand how to guide participants who aren't. It's important to hire charismatic staff, but you need people who understand how to manage participants who need extra instruction or get nervous during the activity.


Simply holding the certifications is not enough - regular staff training and first aid and safety drills are a must, both for full-time staff and particularly when bringing in seasonal staff. In the event of an emergency, staff should know their roles and be able to act quickly and effectively as a team. Regular staff meetings are also important as they provide the opportunity to bring up any concerns before they become a liability (all of this is included as part of the requirements to be an accredited service provider / accredited service providers are audited on a regular basis to ensure that they comply and need to provide evidence).


Guides should always be trained through an accredited training provider and registered with the industry regulator.


Veteran experts in the activity can also work alongside you to assess your operation for risk management.


Build a Risk Management Plan

The key to running a successful adventure tourism business is to reduce risk wherever possible. It's important to have a risk management plan in place and regularly review it.


Your first step is to identify all the risks involved. These risks could be related to the aspects of your activity, your staff, your site, natural hazards, weather, or equipment. Look to other adventure tourism businesses that went south - what could they have done differently?


It is impossible to give all risks the same level of focus, which is why it's also important to prioritize them. Risks can be prioritized by assigning sscores related to aspects of each risk:

  • What are the chances of experiencing the worst possible outcome of a risk?

  • How likely is a risk to damage my business?

  • Can this risk be avoided altogether?

  • What training can be implemented to mitigate risk?

  • How easily can this risk be managed?


The guide could then construct a risk management plan, designed both to keep the guide and their clients safe. Risk management tactics fall under four broad categories:

  • Risk avoidance: removing risk factors from an activity where possible.

  • Risk control: structure activities and procedures to limit risk.

  • Risk transfer: use of insurance and waivers.

  • Risk retention: acceptance of certain risks, such as those inherent in the activity.


Developing a risk management plan is not a simple task and require the input from an experienced and legally qualified guide to ensure the risks have been fully captured and addressed.


Invest in Customer Safety and Risk Management

When running an adventure tourism business, safety and standard of care need to be the top priority.


Lawsuits aside, if customers perceive that they are not safe or that staff is not fully qualified, it will reflected in reviews which could harm the reputation of the industry and country.


(the above information is referenced to the waiverforever.com website)


Requirements to be an Accredited Training Provider

To become a registered training provider (a company who offers training that is accepted by the National Department of Tourism to register guides) in South Africa, the provider needs to have the following in place:

  • Has developed, established and implemented quality assurance policies - these policies ensure that the training provided is of a certain quality that meets the minimum standards set by the regulatory authority. These policies are reviewed and updated on a regular basis to ensure that training remains up to date with the best practises in the industry.

  • Support and commitment from management - the management team are committed to maintaining and developing training standards and provide support to the trainers in this regard.

  • Annual resources surveys are carried out and strategies for improving systems and resources are implemented - an analysis of the training resources and materials are carried out on at least an annual basis to ensure that they remain appropriate, the training team is sufficiently resourced and trained, any new skills / developments are incorporated into the training curriculum / method.

  • Sufficient phsyical resources are avaailable to provide training - there are sufficient training rooms, study material and practical gear.

  • Equipment and training meet the requirements of the health and safety regulations - ensure that the equipment used, and any accommodation provided are safe for the students and are of a certain minimum standard. This is of particular importance when dealing with life support equipment such as a harness or rope.

  • The training provider has selection and recruitment procedures and there are contracts of employment - the provider has a process in place to ensure that suitably qualified and trained staff are employed / contracts of employment are in place which detail their responsibility towards their qualifications and training and ongoing development.

  • Regsitered and qualified assessors and moderators are available - the training provider has qualified assessors and moderators to assess students to ensure that they are competent.

  • Individuals are eligible to practice as assessors in accordance with NQF requirements - any individual employed as an assessor has completed the qualification and registered with the authority.

  • A staff development programme is established for the quality assurance team, all practices are documented and understood by all role-players - the team, responsible for the development of maintaining training quality, has a development programme.

  • Practitioners and assessors have sufficient time, resources and authority to perform their roles and responsibilities effectively - the training provider ensures that the trainers and assessors have the required resources to fulfil their job effectively.

  • Sufficient supporting and administrative support staff to all activities - the training provider has sufficient administrative support to ensure that the administration does not negatively impact the training and assessing.

  • An established system to review performance of practitioners and assessors - the performance of assessors and trainers are reviewed regularly to ensure that they maintain the required standards.

  • Code of Conduct - the training provider has a Code of Conduct which details the behaviour expected of trainers and assessors and the level of professionalism expected of them.

  • Contingency plan - the training provider has plans in place to ensure that should a trainer or assessor not be available this does not impact on students and any training and assessment can continue to take place.

  • External assessors and trainers - if the training provider uses external trainers and assessors, there are contracts and agreements in place.

  • Transparent placement procedures are established - it is very clear to prospective students what are the entrance requirements for the various courses offered and available to students on request.

  • All students are given an overview of the corporate framework, range of resources and support systems - there is a document in place which explains the aforementioned.

  • Rights of learners are clearly stipulated and agreed upon - the training provider explains the rights of the learner and both the provider and learner confirm that they are comfortable with these.

  • Sufficient learning resources are available, managed and monitored and efficiency are regularly reviewed - the training provider ensures that there are sufficient resources available for effective training.


The below additional requirements for training providers to have in place before receiving accreditation.

  • Information, advice and guidance about qualification practices and procedures are provided to the learner.

  • The training provider needs to accommodate the needs of learners.

  • The training provider has a process in place to detect student fraud.

  • Learner's developments are matched against their requirements.

  • Learners have opportunities to review their progress and goals and to revise their development plan.

  • Complaints are dealt with timeously and the complaints process is clearly communicated.

  • Information is stored securely and confidentially.



There continues to be increased focus on the protection and safety of users and consumers of products and services (consumers). This includes clients paying for the services of professional guides. However, there are still a number of tourist operators and guides operating without being registered or even being properly trained. This not only puts the safety of clients at risk but also could damage the reputation of the industry and negatively impact tourism in the country.


Given the importance of tourism and its contribution to the country's economy and its ability to socially uplift communities and individuals, it is of vital importance that the industry is serviced by properly trained, qualified and registered guides.


The above will require a change of the current mindset with all operators embracing the qualification framework in place and this being actively policed by the regulators and the guides and operators themselves. In addition to this there is a need to educate the tourists themselves to require their guides to prove that there are legally registered tourist guides by showing them their tour guide card which has the correct specialities of the activity they are being guided in. For example, if they are about to be taken on a 3-day hike, and their guide is registered as a culture guide, or they are about to be guided down a canyon, and their guide seems to be only qualified in mountain walking and abseiling.


About the Authors

Compiled by Laurence Phillips and Neil Margetts

SA Outdoor Academy and Big Sky Adventures

NQF Qualified with the following skills: Hiking multi-day and off-trail, Abseiling, Rock Climbing Multi-Pitch, and Canyoning.

NQF Accredited Training Provider Reg no: 613/P/00432/2022



Report - Adventure Guides (Qualified versus Unqualified)
Report - Adventure Guides (Qualified versus Unqualified)


473 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All

Comments


bottom of page