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PUP and Associated Colleges of the Midwest Assess Interpretive Training Work Environment in Costa Rican Tourism Company

04 June 2019 8:13 PM | Jon Kohl (Administrator)

View of Arenal Volcano as seen from the hanging bridges of Mistico Park.

May 14. Associated Colleges of the Midwest (ACM) student Olivia Parrott presented her study results to Mistico Park staff in La Fortuna, Costa Rica. She tested a new assessment tool to diagnose how well a work environment might support its tour guides after they finish a training on heritage interpretation.

Since 1964 ACM has sent undergraduates from 14 small liberal arts colleges to Costa Rica for a semester study abroad in a variety of majors. This spring Parrott, a junior from Lake Forest College, worked with her advisor and PUP executive director Jon Kohl to test a new approach that uses a holistic, integral perspective to qualify a work environment as to how supportive it may be for guides who would have graduated from an intensive interpretive training.


Olivia presents her results to Mistico staff

PUP has been training interpretive guides since 1997 when Kohl worked for RARE Center for Tropical Conservation. Since that time, PUP has been applying a more holistic approach to training, first during the training itself and now it has focused on the work environment as well. The premise is that too often people are trained and then return to their work environment where they meet resistance to change and lose new-found enthusiasm and knowledge.

Kohl comments, “The former Vice President of Leadership Development and Chief Learning Officer for General Electric Steve Kerr, famously summed up the problem, ‘The golden rule of organizational development is never send a changed person back to an unchanged environment. Yet 99% of training breaks this rule.’ We decided to do some literature research and then see if Mistico was ready to take back guides trained in interpretation with the PUP Consortium.”

Mistico Park is a family-owned business most famous for its hanging bridges that overlook Arenal Volcano in the heart of Costa Rica’s adventure tourism country. The park only opened in 2014 and invested heavily in infrastructure. Now the company is turning toward investment in its people and seeks the highest quality performance. For this reason, it will be conducting an extensive interpretation training with the PUP Consortium not only for its guides but for the entire company, again, looking at performance enhancement through a holistic lens.

Under Kohl’s guidance, Parrott applied an objective checklist of items that a work environment could have, such as a training program, performance incentives, written contracts with clear performance expectations, etc. that would support the application of interpretive guiding. She also conducted interviews of all guides and senior staff to better understand their perspective on guiding and interpretation and how well their culture supports such an approach. Last, she evaluated the guides to see if they were applying interpretive techniques in their tours. In her presentation, she made several recommendations that the company might consider before beginning the process of training in heritage interpretation.


Tourists take a selfie on one of Mistico’s bridges.

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