[VIDEO] Common Mistakes made on Group Tours – Zipline Tours Gone Wrong (ft South Park)

Good satire is hard to come by.

So when Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the award-winning creators of South Park and The Book of Mormon, decided to parody the common mistakes made on group tours  – I got pretty excited.

I first heard about this South Park episode when I attended the 2017 International ACCT conference. This annual event brings together aerial park operators, high ropes facilities, and zipline tour companies from around the world. I led a number of workshops at the conference and even a full day session on how to create great experiences for travellers.

What I did not expect… was to find a South Park episode that perfectly captured almost everything that can go wrong on a group experience. We are talking common mistakes made on group tours, terrible zipline company policies and bad customer experiences. Basically, the episode highlights what happens when group travel goes wrong.

Download your free PDF “19 Do's and Don'ts for Group Tour Companies” by clicking below.

I’ve edited down the full episode to its most biting observations and if you have ever worked as a tour leader before – I guarantee you will crack a smile during this video.

We then sat down and made a list of common mistakes made on group tours and, specifically, which one’s were called out by the South Park writers. If you want to check out our list and see how it compares to what you took away from the episode, simply download it right here.

Feel free to print it out or share it online with your colleagues, fellow staff or employees!

Even if you are not a fan of South Park or its brand of humour, I think you’ll find a ton of value in seeing ‘what not to do’ when if comes to leading group tours. I even took some liberties and edited out 95% of the fart jokes. (blasphemy?)

Although the writers of the show really take aim at zipline tours in this episode – let’s not get too smug. We’ve all been on group tours with these exact same issues… and there is even a chance that your tour suffers from similar symptoms.

Everything from soggy sandwiches, waiting for late guests, overly long shuttles, ‘long stories not-so-short’ and forced sing-alongs – a little truth goes a long way when it comes to group travel experiences.

Enjoy the clip, share it with any colleagues or staff that need a chuckle, and let’s make sure we aren’t making these mistakes.

All the very best,

-Kelsey T


Finished Watching?

In the comments below, share your WORST group tour experience! What went wrong? How might you have handled things differently if you were running the show?



Hi there, Kelsey Tonner from Be a Better Guide and in this video, we’re going to learn what happens when the creators of South Park take aim at group tours and land some pretty significant blows.

Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the creators of South Park, have won five primetime Emmys and one Peabody Award for their satirical work on South Park as well as nine Tonys and a Grammy, I believe, for their hit Broadway musical, The Book of Mormon.

So, these guys have some chops when it comes to satire and the awards to back it up. Now, this episode of South Park apparently came about after Trey Parker took his own children on a zip lining experience in Colorado and it was pretty awful.

What I’ve done is I’ve edited down the episode. I’ve cut out some of the trademark potty humor that comes with South Park territory.

Even if you are not a fan of South Park, I would highly recommend taking the next six, seven minutes to watch this clip because you’re going to learn a lot about what not to do on your group tours.

Tour guide: Hey, you guys here for the 2 o’clock zip line tour?

Boy voice: Yeah.

Music and voice: All right. Let me get you some helmets and some gear and we’ll get up there and hit that fresh nar nar.  All right. You guys look ready to zip line.

Tour guide: Okay, just follow me over to the waiting room and we’ll have you take a seat with the others.

Stan: We were like, “Others? We have to do this with other people?” Hi there. Hello.

Girl voice: Hi.

Narrator:  The boys have just made a sobering discovery. For 10-year-old Stan Marsh, the realization that he will be with a tour group has caused his adrenal gland to slow down.

The average human acts a certain way when surrounded by friends and family, but in a tour group the brain has to work overtime, acting nice and pretending to care about people on the tour.

Girl voice: Hey, how are you?

Stan Marsh: Good, how are you?  So, then we sit there for 30 minutes because we had to wait for this couple who was running late.

Tour guide: All right. Our last zip liners are here.

Male Speaker: Sorry we made you wait everybody.

Narrator: Inside Kyle’s mouth the muscles contract to force a smile, even though in his brain, Kyle is thinking, “Dude, [bleep] you.”

Kyle: We don’t mind. Now everyone was there. We thought things would start getting fun, but that’s when we had to watch safety video.

Safety Video: Welcome to Backcountry Adventures. Well, hey there, Michael. Hey, there, Michael. (Laugh)

Kyle: It was, I don’t know, 10 maybe 15 minutes of pure hell.

Video: (Laugh) Oh, and don’t forget to take in the nar. Back to you Michael.

Tour guide: Thanks, Michael. Anybody have any questions?

Kyle: No.

Male voice: I have a question. Could we review the best ways to hold the rope again?

Stan: Really? You’re going to make us all listen to it again because you couldn’t understand? Really?

Tour guide: Let’s get out there and get zipping.

Kyle: Finally.

Narrator: The boys think their ordeal is over, but what they don’t realize is that things are about to go from bad to worse.

Tour guide: Here we go guys.  Zip lining.  Everyone just step on in the shuttle.

Kyle: Shuttle? How long do we have to take the shuttle?

Tour guide It’s about 45 minutes.

Narrator: It’s a devastating blow.

Tour guide: All right, guys. It should be about 45 minutes to the freshest nar nar.  Why don’t we go around the van and get to know each other a little bit?

Stan: That’s okay.

Pete Nichols: My name is Pete Nichols and this is my wife, Donna, and to make a long story short, we came out here to see our relatives who live down in Moab.

They’ve been living there about 20 years now and long story short, they told us that as long as we were in the Rockies we should try zip lining.

So, long story short, we looked around in the newspapers and on the internet and on billboards and to make a long story short, we found this company and thought we’d give her a try.

So then we called and made a reservation and that’s when, long story short, we just thought . . .

Stan: Thank God.

Tour guide: All right. Here we are. Looks like we got some good nar to zip line through today. But before we climb up and start zip lining, does anyone care to know about these trees’ biology?

Kyle: The tree’s biology?

Tour guide: We are running a little late, but if anyone really wants to know, we can take a few minutes.

Kyle: I think we’re good.

Pete: I’d like to know about the biology of the trees.

Tour guide: Okay. Well, this is a Ponderosa pine. It covers a more extensive area than other . . .

All right, remember to keep your hands clear of the cable and just let your equipment do the work. Now, when you’re about halfway down the zip line, the camera is going to take your picture.

So, when I call out look up and give the camera a nice.  All right, you ready?

Stan: Yeah.

Tour guide: You ready to do some zipping?

Stan: Yeah.

Tour guide: All right, let’s hear you say “zip line.”

Stan: Zip line.

Tour guide: All right. Nice zip.

Kyle: It was like having the life sucked out of you. That’s all it is.  Sliding down a cable. Maybe without a tour group it’d be kind of fun. Maybe, but this is just a complete disaster.

Narrator: After a gruelling 20 minutes waiting for everyone else to ride the zip line the boys realized they have just wasted hours of their time and that is when the unthinkable happens.

Tour guide: All right, guys. Let’s get moving. Only 10 minutes to our next zip lines.

Crowd: Yeah.

Stan: The next zip lines? What are you talking about?

Kyle: Excuse me, we aren’t going back now? Aren’t we done?

Tour guide: This is a zip line tour. We got 16 more to go.

Stan: And it was like wham.

Boys: (Yelling)

Tour guide: Everyone back in the shuttle.

Boys: (Yelling)

Narrator: The boys realized that their zip lining nightmare has only just begun.

Boys: (Yelling)

Tour guide: Anyone have any questions about the creek we are about to cross?

Voice: Yes.

Boys: (Yelling)

Voices: (Singing)

Kyle: So I just tried to keep the tour group moving as fast as possible.

Tour guide: All right, guys. This is where we’re going to break for lunch. Come in by the waterfall, gang.

Boy: Oh, no. Could we skip lunch and keep going?

Voice: Skip a free lunch? Not me.

Tour guide: Who wants sandwiches? We got turkey, ham, turkey/ham.

Kyle: Suddenly, Stan says he knows about some horse stables. It seemed too good to be true.

Voice: Now, let me get this straight. You want four horses. One for each of you?

Kyle: Yes, please.

Voice: I think we could set you up.

Boy: Oh, thank God. You see guys? It’s going to be sweet after all.

Voice: Step right out here. We’ll get you going. Got four more for you Duncan.

Narrator: Four young boys in Colorado are on a trip from hell.

Boy voice: (Yelling)

Narrator: Trapped in a tour group on horseback that is only allowed to travel four miles an hour.

Kyle: Can we please go faster?

Voice: We got some lunch set up for you up ahead. Some turkey sandwiches and Diet Double Dew.

Pete: So anyway, long story short, I was born in 1953 at six in the morning.

Narrator: An attempt to make a bad day better becomes a decent into madness on, “I should have never thought horseback riding would be any better than zip lining.”

Kelsey Tonner: Ouch. I’ve been on enough group tours to know that all of that is funny because it’s often true. Hopefully, you got a chuckle out of that episode. But more importantly, think about your own tours.

Are you falling into any of these traps and what can you fix? To help you with this process, I’ve created a one-page bonus PDF that basically is 19 of what I felt are the biggest takeaways from this episode.

You can grab that using the link below and compare it to some of the notes that you had. These are dos, do nots and things that we can do better.

Feel free to share this video or that handout if you’re inspired or you know a group tour operator who might need a chuckle.

Before you go, in the comments below, I would love to hear about your worst group tour experience.

Now, I think this will be really fun to hear about what people went through. And two, hopefully, we can learn from some of these other tour companies’ mistakes.

Thanks so much for being here and I’ll see you next time.  And let’s do one for the road. One, two, three. Shaka Brah!

Kelsey Tonner

An experienced, global tour guide and founder of the Be a Better Guide Project. Life is too short for boring! Let's share passions and give people memories of a lifetime.

This Post Has 8 Comments

  1. Darren Sweet

    Thanks Kelsey! Adding this to our training program.

  2. Donna

    (Before I ever became a tour guide…) I was living in Madrid, and my sister came to visit. Due to complex travel, the most efficient way to show her Toledo was to take a day tour. After the tour started, we learned the guide was doing the tour in both Spanish and English. It soon was evident that the guide had limited ability in English. He would say a paragraph in Spanish, then something short like, “Toledo sightseeing,” in English. I soon started to simultaneous interpret his Spanish commentary for my sister’s benefit. Soon people around us were asking me to speak up so they could hear what I was saying, too! The guide was not happy!
    The worse part of that day was the shopping time. Instead of allowing time in the city center where there were many places to make purchases, the guide took the group to a place way-way off the beaten path, where there was nothing to see and only one place to buy. The shop turned on the lights and unlocked the door when we arrived! Several guests made purchases of typical souvenirs as there was no other choice. I hung back in side the store and watched the guide collect his commission from the shop owner before the bus left.

    1. Kelsey Tonner

      These ‘forced stops’, lunch breaks at restaurants in the middle of nowhere and built-in shopping time are some of the most common complaints while on group tours. The ‘commission and kickback’ culture is not present in all countries, but if you lead tours in a country where this is the norm – do the right thing and remove this kind of pressured selling from the itinerary. Your guests will reward you with better online reviews and word-of-mouth recommendations! Thanks for sharing Donna – a SUPER common frustration.

  3. Christina

    Great video, Kelsey! I can’t think of specifics, but I’ve definitely been in the position of waiting on people, sitting through multiple explanations for those who didn’t understand the first five times, and being encouraged to have a sing-along when it clearly wasn’t the group dynamic (despite the fact that I loved the soundtrack being played.) I’m eager to check out the PDF when it arrives so that I can see the specific dos and don’ts and avoid annoyed guests!

    1. Kelsey Tonner

      Sing-alongs are not for all groups… Something I had to learn as a guide that loves singing. = ) Like with most things, the skill, energy and tact of the tour leader is a major factor. I’ve seen things that I never thought would work with a group become the highlight of an experience. Lead by example and always let people have the ability to opt-out! Thanks for the comment Christina!

  4. Neal

    Hi Kelsey,
    Great article and we at PicThrive couldn’t agree with you more. That’s why we believe photos should be part of the experience and never forced. It’s all about the guest experience. We’ve written about it to help our clients and it’s part of our 5 fundamentals tour and activity photos. Check it out here https://www.picthrive.com/2016/11/02/are-you-making-photos-part-of-the-tour-experience/

    1. Kelsey Tonner

      Hi Neal, thanks for sharing your post and business. I gotta ask though, what’s been your worst group tour experience? Do you get any of it on video?? : )

      1. Neal

        Great question. I had to think hard about that. I think it was on those odd times when a guide didn’t show some of us in the tour much attention. They didn’t try to interact with everyone, they were more focused on only certain members of the group vs. making everyones experience great.

        If the guest has a great time and the photographer/guide is able to capture those moments on camera then it makes the selling process much easier, almost a no brainer for the guest. Great tours = great memories and thus photos/videos are purchased. Bad experience = no photo sales. Keep up the great work 🙂

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