Photo: Garry Knight
AS A TOUR GUIDE, I receive lots of questions from passionate travelers wondering if the job is right for them. Here are some frequently asked questions…and my answers:
Tour Guide/Tour Leader: Is there any difference?
These job titles are often used interchangeably, though there are some subtle differences between the two. The skills of a tour guide and leader, though are usually required by most companies.
Generally speaking, tour guides are expected to know a city (or country) intimately and offer guests interpretive information such as history and anecdotes on all sites.
While tour leaders also need knowledge of the places they are visiting, they are also responsible for the logistics and planning of a trip, ensuring everything runs smoothly. It is not uncommon for guides and leaders from the same company to work closely together. For simplicity, the term “guides” is used in the rest of this article to refer to both positions.
I love to travel. This must be the perfect job for me, right?
You’ll certainly be traveling, but your job is to be there for your guests. You may be visiting the same places week after week, but even when you do go somewhere new it’s unlikely you’ll have much time to yourself.
Being good with people, being a great organizer, and possessing a real interest in history and culture are more important traits than just wanting to see the world.
Do I need any qualifications?
Some cities require you to be a licensed guide to lead tours. While a relevant degree– Travel and Tourism, Art, History, Geography, Languages– can be of benefit, very few guides have any kind of formal qualifications.
What skills do I need?
- People skills- You’re spending practically every hour of every day with your guests and not all of them will be nice.
Logistical management- A lot of aspects go into planning a holiday. Even if you’re not responsible for setting up those details, you’ll be responsible for keeping on top of them all once your group is on the road.
- Organization- You don’t want to get mixed up on where you’re supposed to be going, or what you’re doing.
Calm under pressure- Anything could happen on a tour, and everyone will look to you when things go wrong.
- Quick learner- From “Where’s the bathroom?” to “When was that built?” you’ll need to have answers at hand.
- Good public speaker- Speaking to your group is more than half the job. You want to make sure they understand you.
- Energetic- You’ll be working almost every waking hour, often for weeks at a time- you need to be in top form at all times.
I don’t speak any languages. Can I still be a guide?
This depends on the company you work for. If you’re looking to work in Italy, for example, it would be difficult to get by without Italian, but very few companies would expect you to speak Vietnamese to lead in Asia, for example.
Is there any job security?
Not really. Most guides work on a tour by tour basis. While you’ll be over-worked during the peak seasons (usually summer), come off-season you’ll probably be looking in the Help Wanted ads. Many guides are on the books of several companies so they can maximise their work opportunities.
Could I be a guide in a country that I’ve never even visited?
Absolutely. Most companies find it difficult to recruit guides in certain countries and many guides are sent to new regions. While this may sound great, imagine trying to guide 50 people around a city you’ve never even been to. And with a busy schedule, it’s unlikely you’ll get time to explore on you own.
How much do I get paid?
As a qualified city guide you could make several hundred dollars in a single day. If you’re an overland driver you could struggle to make this much in a whole month.
While pay varies hugely, it’s rarely much more than minimum wage. Depending on the guests you have, tips can be generous- if you’ve done a good job, of course.
Are all my expenses paid?
This depends very much on the company, however, most professional companies pay your expenses while you’re working- typically food, accommodation, and any work-related travel.
Okay, this sounds like the job for me! Where do I sign up?
There are hundreds of companies looking for guides. Some are more professional than others and you should always research any company thoroughly before taking up an offer of work. Just a few to get you started:
One of the world’s largest providers of educational travel with coach trips on every continent.
One of the market leaders in luxury biking and hiking trips around the world.
Overland adventure company with long duration trips on four continents.
One of the world’s most popular coach touring companies.
Guided backpacking trips across the world.
Like any job, different companies look for different traits and tasks from their employees and every position comes with a different job description. These answers are only a general guide and will vary considerably from company to company.