064 · How to become a tour guide + 13 tips for success

Being a tour guide is particularly interesting for those who have a real passion for their region and are enthusiastic about sharing their knowledge with tourists coming to spend a few days in the area. This activity will give you the opportunity to meet people from all over the world, to show them the most emblematic sites of your region, and to make them live unique experiences. In this article, we’ll look at the different steps to becoming a tour guide, as well as the skills you’ll need to get there and the tips that will help you attract customers.

What exactly is being a tour guide?

As you probably already know, a tour guide is the person who takes a group of tourists on a guided tour of a city, historical site, museum or any other place of tourist interest. The guide does not only lead these tourists from one place to another but also provides them with various and interesting information about the visited sites and their history, as well as about the cultural specificities of the region.

These tourists are not always people from the other side of the world, but sometimes also locals who are just curious and want to learn more about their own history and culture. Note also that not all tour guides are necessarily locals but can also come from far away. They are history buffs or experts on a particular place who live there all year round or only stay there during the tourist season.

What are the requirements to become a tour guide?

Certain qualities and skills are necessary, even indispensable, to succeed in this profession, as we will see now. First of all, it is better to speak several languages, including English which is certainly the most universal language, especially in the West but also in part of Asia, Africa, and South America (even if it is Spanish and Portuguese that dominate there).

Of course, you must also have a solid knowledge of the places you will be guiding. A historically charged place requires knowledge of the dates of key events, the key people involved, etc. There was a time when anyone could organize a tour without knowing much about the place visited, sometimes telling anything from extravagant anecdotes to the most improbable facts (the more spectacular the better), and the poor tourists who knew nothing or not much about it saw nothing. But things have changed a lot today.

First of all, tourists are much better informed than before, thanks to the Internet in particular, and can therefore sniff out scams much more easily. Secondly, the local authorities in the most famous tourist places have also put in place very strict regulations, and you will now need to have a permit or even pass exams proving your knowledge in order to obtain an official administrative recognition as a tourist guide.

This is especially the case for countries like France, Italy, Greece, Egypt, and others that are on the list of the most visited countries in the world but not necessarily for the more anonymous places. If you want to show your village to passing tourists, for example, it is not necessarily mandatory, so be sure to find out.

You will also be responsible for the safety of the people you will take care of. Inform them about places to avoid or activities that are too dangerous to do, and above all, don’t take them to bad places where they could be robbed of their belongings or worse.

It’s best to be physically fit, too, as some tours can last for hours. In addition, cities like Lisbon or Rome, for example, require stamina because they are built on hills that the guides spend their time climbing up and down.

ou will also need to have good organizational skills and be able to adapt quickly to the circumstances. If, for example, the group is mostly composed of elderly people, climbing the Leaning Tower of Pisa or Mount Fuji on foot is probably not the best idea. Similarly, it might be better to avoid a boat trip when a violent storm is blowing through the area.

Finally, a good tour guide must have communication skills to clearly convey the relevant information at hand, be comfortable with social interaction to create a friendly and relaxed atmosphere. They must also enjoy human contact and be able to adapt to the cultural and other differences they will be confronted with (differences in religion, point of view, but also political views, etc.).

A guide shows the map of the city to his clients Always try to keep smiling (leave your problems at home) and keep a good atmosphere in the group.

How do I get started as a tour guide?

To get started, you will have the choice of becoming an employee or a self-employed person. For the first option, you could apply for jobs with travel agencies, hotels, the local tourist office, etc. The other option is to work on your own and offer services as an independent tour guide. In this second case, you will have to find your clients and organize everything yourself. It’s a lot of work, especially in the beginning, but the rest of this article will help you know how to accomplish these tasks.

How to find clients when you start as a tour guide?

It won’t always be easy, and even quite complicated on sites where there are sometimes more guides than tourists, but here are some interesting leads you can follow:

  • Stand around at the entrance of the tourist sites: This is what many guides do. They wait for tourists to show up, approach them, and offer a guided tour with negotiable conditions (visit time, price…). This can be a good solution if there is not an excessive imbalance between supply and demand (the number of tourists vs. the number of guides).
  • Distribute flyers: Print small flyers proposing your services and distribute them in places frequented by arriving tourists (train station, airport, hotel, restaurant, cab…). Be careful because tourists will only glance at it for a second or two, so your flyer must be as eye-catching and convincing as possible so that they decide to look at it more closely.
  • Find partners: Propose partnerships with travel agencies, hotels, the local tourist office, restaurants, cabs… and offer a service exchange (I’ll bring you customers if you bring me customers), or a commission for every customer referred by them.
  • Social networks: Create an Instagram, TikTok, Facebook, Pinterest, and YouTube account to share dynamic videos, colorful photos, texts that make people salivate with envy, and don’t forget to include your keywords (see article on SEO) and to put your website address on each of your posts.
  • Create a website: Choose a name that is both short and evocative of your business and create a website with the same ingredients as for social networks and flyers. The big advantages of having a website are that you can customize your communication without any limits, list all the ways to contact you easily, and also post reviews left by other customers. I have written an article on the subject—don’t hesitate to read it.
  • Register on specialized platforms: Platforms like Viator, Expédia, GetYourGuide, TripAdvisor, Booking, Tourradar or even RentALocalFriend, offer a quick and easy way for travelers to book their sightseeing tours online or contact a local guide. You may want to sign up for them, because even if it’s not (always) free, it’s still a great way to find customers.
  • Participate in tourism fairs: These are usually held in the off-season, so this may be an opportunity to show people what you offer. This can be a good option if the registration fee is not too high and it’s not too far from your home (unless you have the budget to go).
  • Participate in online discussions: Joining forums and Facebook groups that talk about travel and participating in discussions is also a good way to become more well-known. Don’t hesitate to comment on the official publications of the sites or cities you’re visiting or the blog posts you find. The goal here is to show that you know your subject and to gain visibility. However, be careful not to make intrusive advertising. Offer relevant and useful information for travelers while indicating that you are a guide (use the name of your business/website as a username).
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How much can you earn as a tour guide?

As always, the rates vary depending on the region, the country, but also, in this case, on the type of tour offered and the needs and demands of the clients.

In general, according to information gathered from tour guides and tourism organizations, beginner tour guides can expect to earn around 50 to 100 dollars per day while more experienced guides can expect to earn between 150 and 300 dollars per day.

This is a broad and approximate range, and if you want to have a more precise amount for your region, you can check out sites such as Talent, Indeed, Salary, or others that display the average salary for many professions, and that you can quickly find via a Google search. Be careful because these are sometimes declarative salaries, and the income of independent workers are sometimes mixed with the salaries of employees. This is still a good indication to get an idea.

In the United States, tour guide fees vary by city and by the experience of the guide. For example, in cities like New York or San Francisco, hourly rates for a qualified tour guide can be as high as $60-80 per hour or more but are lower in smaller cities or less touristy places, as you might expect.

How to organize the visits well?

As I said before, being able to organize the visits for your clients is important in order to optimize the time you will spend with each group, but it will also allow you to be prepared for all eventualities and unexpected events. Here are some tips on how to do this.

1Transportation

If the distance of the tour you have planned is relatively short, you can propose to your clients to do it as a walking tour. This will depend on the weather and their physical condition, but it is sometimes the best way to discover the different tourist attractions of a city because you can walk at a pace that is conducive to discovering and meeting the locals, and it is also environmentally friendly and good for the health. Otherwise, public transportation such as bus, streetcar, metro, etc., are also good alternatives.

If, however, the tour involves traveling dozens of kilometers and the destination is poorly served by local transportation, or if for any other reason the use of a motorized vehicle is essential, opt for something that slips easily into the traffic and parks without too much difficulty. Some guides use for example a tuk-tuk (electric because the heat engine makes too much noise and pollutes a lot) that tourists appreciate because it is both original and practical. It is perfect for small groups of 2 to 6 people.

In the case of a hiking/camping trip, the starting point is often in the middle of nowhere, so a vehicle that can carry your guests and all the equipment is of course essential. But check if there is a train or bus line that stops nearby. It will save you from having to buy a big 4×4 or a mini van.

Electric tuk-tuk in Lisbon, Portugal Electric tuk-tuk in Lisbon, Portugal

2The activities

Offering the classic tours is fine because some people come only for that, but others are sometimes looking for something different. So try to propose also more original activities that take into account the weather conditions but also the interests of your customers. I give you some examples here, but use your imagination and see what is possible in your area.

You could therefore propose:

  • Visits to historical monuments, such as castles, churches, museums, or other iconic places that provide insight into the history and culture of the region (the basics).
  • Cultural visits on specific themes related to the region, such as art, music, or literature (check out the famous people in your area), or other specific themes such as wildlife, geology, wine, architecture, etc.
  • Tasting local food in small, authentic restaurants or inns that are not frequented by tourists or even in the homes of local people.
  • Sports activities (hiking, rafting, climbing…), leisure activities (amusement parks or wildlife parks), or outdoor activities (cycling, fishing, photo safari, etc.).
  • Des visites sur des thèmes spécifiques tels que la faune et la flore, la géologie, le vin, l’architecture, etc.
  • Des activités de plein air telles que le vélo, la pêche, safari photo, etc.
  • Visiting areas known for their exceptional biological diversity such as bird sanctuaries, nature reserves, lush forests, botanical gardens, etc.
  • Visits to institutions and other famous places such as the parliament, royal palace, university, library, soccer stadium, etc.
  • Visits to historic neighborhoods, local markets, or cultural events.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of being a tour guide?

Being a tour guide has many advantages such as discovering new places that you might not have known existed, meeting interesting people from different cultures, sharing your passion with curious and enthusiastic people, contact with nature, and also the possibility to organize your working days with more or less freedom.

As for the disadvantages, let’s note first of all the often irregular working hours as well as the sometimes long days (which requires a certain endurance), and the vagaries of the weather which can force you to review your schedule at the last minute. Note also that you will sometimes be dependent on unexpected events (economic or health crisis, war, or unstable political situation…) which can have a direct impact on your business, as we saw in 2020 with the COVID-19 pandemic and the almost worldwide lockdown that was put in place.

13 Tips to Get More Clients As a Tour Guide

Let’s end this article with some tips that will help you get more clients and therefore earn more money as a tour guide.

  • Knowing other languages: Some guides know English and their local language, but speaking other languages can be a real advantage to stand out. Spanish, Mandarin, Japanese, Russian, etc. are some examples of languages that are in high demand by tourists.
  • Be better than Wikipedia: Knowing interesting facts and anecdotes about the sites, cities, and regions you are touring, especially those that are not well known, is highly appreciated by tourists.
  • Know the right places: Tourists usually arrive in a place where they know nothing. Find out about restaurants, accommodations, attractions, and activities that are worth a visit, so you can give them really useful advice.
  • Make every visit memorable: Avoid the classic boring tours, especially if your customers are young. Come up with ideas to make the tour both dynamic and exciting so that the day will be remembered by your clients.
  • Be the nice guy: Put tourists at ease, be pleasant, considerate and responsive, be patient, tactful and humorous… in short, be irresistible.
  • Identify your clients’ needs: They often only have a few days, or even a single day, to achieve what is sometimes a lifetime dream, so it’s crucial to give them what they came for. Ask them exactly what they want and do what you can to satisfy them.
  • Be forward thinking: Check the weather forecast every day and plan your visits around the weather. For example, choose shady, leafy spots on hot days, or shelter from the rain on days when the weather is bad.
  • Adapt your tours: The composition of each group you have can vary greatly. One day it will be mostly seniors and the other more children. So find activities that are suitable for as many people as possible and offer the ones that are best suited to each of them.
  • Avoid the big touristy places: The competition is extremely tough there, and only a few manage to make a good living. Whenever possible, focus on small towns with a rich history that is not well known to the general public or on regions that you know well and that you think you can get the attention of interested people.
  • Master your subject: Tourists are generally curious by nature and like to ask questions. Knowing how to answer them will give you more credibility, increase your chances of getting a good tip, and help maintain your good reputation. Read everything you can on the subject (books, blog articles, press articles…) to become an expert.
  • Organize a meal at a local’s home: It can even be at your home or with your family, but be aware that some tourists particularly appreciate the authenticity of a meal at a local’s home. You could even organize stays, including meals and accommodation?
  • Find partnerships: I’ve already talked about this, but it’s a solution that can really boost your income. Go to hotels, restaurants, bars, and any other place frequented by tourists, become buddies with their boss or manager, and propose a collaboration with a commission at the end.
  • Develop your photographic skills: Tourists love selfies, and they will certainly ask you to do it with their camera or smartphone. Therefore, learning some basic photography skills will help you find the right angles and framing, and thus take great pictures. Moreover, it will be very useful for the content you will post on your social networks. I wrote an article explaining how to take good pictures, so don’t hesitate to read it.
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Conclusion

Being a tour guide can be a really exciting and rewarding job. It will allow you to share your passion for your region, to help tourists to discover some unknown places, and to make travelers aware of the importance of preserving all these places you are attached to.

This can take time, however, the time needed to acquire all the knowledge related to the history and culture of the places you will be touring. You will also have to be patient and adaptable in order to meet your clients’ expectations and offer them an unforgettable experience but also creative and persistent in order to build your good reputation and find new clients.

EcoTips

Environmental and climate change issues are more than ever at the heart of the concerns of this 21st century, which is why I am proposing a few ideas that will enable you to limit the negative impact that the implementation of this idea could have.

These solutions that I suggest are sometimes largely insufficient to compensate for these negative impacts, such as carbon offsetting. Unfortunately, there is not always an ideal and 100% efficient solution, far from it. And if you have others, please do not hesitate to share them in the comments below.

On this particular topic, the bad news is that tourism represents a significant part of GHG (greenhouse gas) emissions in the world (it is mostly related to air and car transportation), but the good news is that with the health crisis of 2020-21, but also the awareness of the damage caused by mass tourism, many travelers are choosing to do local or at least intra-national tourism. So my first advice is to target this kind of tourist first.

And even if you are not an eco-guide, do not hesitate to emphasize the preservation of the environment and to make your clients aware of ecological issues such as climate change. Choose a historical or cultural angle, even a contemporary one, that is closely or distantly related to your region. Dig into the local press to find anecdotes, events, or current events that can help inspire you.

If you get in touch with your clients before they arrive, encourage them to take the train, the bus, or even to carpool instead of flying, when possible.

For your part, give preference to visits by bicycle, on foot, by public transport, or by electric vehicle if you can. All means are good to avoid producing GHGs in the face of climate issues.

Pros

  • A varied and stimulating job.
  • The possibility to meet people, sometimes very interesting, from all over the world.
  • A great freedom in the organization of his work (often, anyway).

Cons

  • Often irregular working hours.
  • The need to adapt to different types of clients.
  • You will sometimes be dependent on unexpected events (pandemic, war, economic crisis…).
  • Dependence on the vagaries of the weather and seasons.
  • PThis can be stressful when you are responsible for the safety of customers.
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Legal and administrative aspects of the ideas you'll find on Sweekr are rarely discussed because they vary greatly depending on the country you live in. I would advise you to check with your local adminitration before starting any business. Keep in mind that if you make money, the state will ask for "its share" in order to guarantee the proper functioning of schools, hospitals and other public services. Therefore, you will probably have to acquire a micro-entrepreneur status, or any other similar.

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