Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Fired Up!!

I just received a survey request from FOAM and I gotta say, I'm more than just a little disappointed but yet, somehow vindicated for dropping FOAM last week.

FOAM, which stands for Fishing Outfitters Association of Montana was the organization that provided most of the guides and outfitters in Montana, (including myself,) their liability insurance. As a guide, I don't necessarily have to have insurance to work but many of the outfitters won't hire me unless I do. The assumption is that by me having insurance; somehow they are protected. The reality is, is that I'm just one more person that can be sued. The outfitter would get sued regardless, which is why they have more insurance and a higher and more qualifying license distinction. At $300 a year, it's not a lot to carry the insurance and it will protect me a little if someone gets hurt. Until recently however, I also had to be a member of FOAM to qualify for the insurance, which costs $75. To me, this has increasingly become a conflict of interest and it's also why I've changed my insurance provider.

FOAM and the Board of Outfitters is in existence to protect the outfitters. One of the services they provide is to lobby for rules and regulations to protect their constituents. As a way to gauge the attitude of their constituents and develop a strategy to address a recently debated issue, FOAM decided to put out a survey on the idea of guide advertising. I just received the survey because I used to be a member and I'm on their mailing list. There were only three questions and none of them were directed towards the guides. They basically were asking if the outfitters would allow their guides to advertise and what they felt "advertising" was. It was obvious that they didn't care one bit about what us 'guides' feel about it even though we have been a paying member of FOAM just like the outfitters.

Here's the deal; I'm a guide and I have cards that have my contact information and my blog address. At the end of the day, I give the card to the clients and ask them if I can post pictures of them on my blog. They are welcome to check out the blog and I also ask them to forward it along to friends and family. I also tell them that my name and contact info is on there and if they want to fish with me in the future, I would love to take them and that they should ask the outfitter when they book the trip. In a situation where they don't know the outfitter from Adam because either they were friends of mine or because it was booked through a shop and they didn't meet the outfitter, I tell them they could contact me for availability and we would work it out so they can fish with me. I also tell them however, that everything as far as payment goes, has to go through the original outfitter or shop. That way, the outfitter still gets his cut and I get the client.

Some folks now, are questioning the loyalty of the guides by trying to make this practice illegal. (I'm sorry but this just reeks of hypocracy.) In fact, me even having a blog and handing out my card is definitely skirting the edge of what the Board is now deeming illegal. They're afraid that guides will either book the trip through an outfitter that pays more to the guide or the guide himself, will become an outfitter and steal the client. (Or the guide will just do the trip under the table.) It is however, totally legal right now to have a card as long as my endorsing outfitter's web-site and license number are also on the card. What this would do though, is advertise that outfitter to clients from other outfitters that I work for, which would definitely be cause for more concern from the hiring outfitter and rightfully so. I worked for sixteen different outfitters last year so am I suppose to have sixteen different outfitter's licenses and web-sites on my cards?

As a guide, I can say with absolute certainty, that clients have continued to patron a lodge or a shop in large part because of the services they have received from me and the rest of the guides. I've had many groups and clients request me specifically as have most of the guides out here. But at the same time, I've also had outfitters not grant the client's request. (I know--I should just choose not to work for that outfitter anymore, right? Unfortunately, I'm not in the position to turn down days from anyone.) I know for fact that some guides are being discriminated against because of their age, (and if you're a woman...)and I also know, without a doubt, that some guides are being overlooked because they don't have the right look or wear the right gear or don't promote a certain life-style image. Essentially, we don't have any of the same protections that even an employee would have. So my question is; who's looking out for the guide?

My only security in this business is for a client, who's had a good trip, to request me in the future. Without them having my contact information, that becomes an unlikely proposition. (Think about how hard of a time you have remembering someones name. If you spent a day with a tour guide, do you think you'd remember their name six months from now?) If I don't give a card I don't get requested and if I don't get requested, I not only don't get that trip but I may also be seen unfavorably by the outfitter because I'm not getting requested. It's a catch 22. The crazy thing is that for some outfitters, they actually want you to contact clients and build that relationship because they understand that's what will bring the client back.

And here's the other thing; I was recently at the Board of Outfitters asking about the process to becoming an outfitter and I was told that I should make sure to read the part of the rules book about "stealing clients." I was told by the director of the board that even if I had originally introduced a client to an outfitter, that client was technically the outfitter's client and I could get my license suspended or even revoked if I contact that client directly. That's complete bullshit. The client was originated by the guide, which initially made the outfitter money they wouldn't have made in the first place. If a client would rather fish with me, or another guide instead of the outfitter, shouldn't that be their choice? What gets lost in all this is that good guides are actually a commodity and outfitters should be fighting to keep those relationships that they can prosper from.

Every client has a choice for who they want to fish with just like every outfitter has a choice of who they want to hire. If you're going to protect the outfitters than you should also protect the guides. If you're going to set up a system of freedom of choice where the client can pick and choose the best guide/outfitter, than leave it open. But to keep building safeguards for the outfitters and not take into account the welfare of the guide; I think that's wrong. And again, now there's legislation being proposed to allow outfitters to use 'assistants' to guide clients, which further infringes on our right to compete.

Keep 'em where they live...

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