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Ten Years in the Making: Europe’s Structured Approach to Guide Training

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Photo © ATTA / Garth Reckers

Photo © ATTA / Garth Reckers

The newly finished European Learning Syllabus for Outdoor Animators project (ELESA) was released in late November.

With 13 partners spread across 11 countries and nine languages, the ELESA Project marks a significant milestone for the EU to improve education for so-called “outdoor animators.” Initiated 10 years ago at the University of Lyon, the ELESA Project aims to unite European outdoor guides through a ready-to-use EU training syllabus.

ELESA members invented the term “outdoor animator” to encompass what was formerly a guide, instructor, coach, etc: an outdoor animator. “Do you know why we chose the word animator?” asked Jean Yves Lapeyrère, one of the project’s leaders. “In Latin, the word ‘anima’ means spirit, and the animator is the person who gives the spirit to the group. If you haven’t got spirit in your group, you’ve got nothing!”

The syllabus focuses on training for situations in which 90% of the clientele is European. It specifies that all graduates must be trained to guide in all participating European nations (i.e. a Dutch mountain trainee must also acquire skills to guide in the Alps). Hard skills are assessed to verify necessary competency. The multi-layer syllabus, commencing with general knowledge and skills, is further divided into five umbrella categories encompassing all activities: Lake & Sea, Snow, Earth, Stream and Air. There are 12 modules to train outdoor animators in everything from basic safety to pedagogy and communication to applied physiology.


The ELESA training syllabus was released in November 2015.

For those in the industry following the progress of both the ELESA Project and the industry-led Adventure Travel Guide Qualification and Performance Standard hosted by the ATTA, a crucial difference between the two initiatives is the specification of a training syllabus. While both the ELESA Project and the Adventure Travel Guide Qualification and Performance Standard aim to professionalize and improve the work of outdoor leaders, the adventure guide standard does not prescribe a specific course of training. Recognizing that adventure travel guides around the globe have vastly different access to training resources, the adventure guide standard provides businesses, destinations and guides with clear goals and a benchmark for gauging the level of qualification and performance of adventure guides.

Says ELESA partner and European Confederation of Outdoor Employers (EC-OE) President Herman Smulders on the intersection of the two documents, “Roughly speaking, you could consider the Adventure Travel Guide Qualification and Performance Standard as the industry specifications, whereas the EC-OE/ELESA training program could be considered as a methodology used to train future guides.”

“As I see it, there could be many possible paths to achieving the high level of performance described in the standard,” commented Christina Beckmann, ATTA’s representative to the working group which developed the standard. “Through AdventureEDU, the ATTA will offer an immersion field training program for adventure guides that will train to the level of the standard, and I hope that in time there will be many programs available around the world to help local guides reach a high level of performance.”

“Initially, the ELESA syllabus may be used by training providers all over Europe as a benchmark to adapt existing training schemes towards a more industry-friendly structure,” predicts Michalis Tsoukias, owner of Trekking Hellas, “But I think that the future will be full implementation of the ELESA syllabus by either vocational education and training or short circle training providers.”

“I’m looking forward to see how this new syllabus will be implemented through a training institute,” says ATTA member Laura Payne of Outdoor Albania, a tour operator specialized in both cultural and active tours. “We love what we do, and we want to preserve Albania’s unique natural and cultural assets, which is crucial for the success of our activities. Outdoor Albania is always trying to improve the standards of our tour leaders (animators) by regularly providing training. I joined the ELESA conference in order to stay updated on the best practices.”

The provisional ELESA syllabus was released in November and is available to all who want to use it. For more information on the Adventure Travel Guide Qualification and Performance Standard click here or for other languages, click here.

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