So You Want to Be a Tour Guide

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ToursByLocals works with an amazing team of guide-partners: 1708 of them in 132 different countries at last count! We respect these individuals for their knowledge, their passion, their expertise, their charm, and their own unique brand of joie de vivre.

We are frequently approached by potential tour guides – online, by phone and in person at trade shows and travel conferences. These are generally people who like the idea of being a tour guide in their home town, and look to us for advice on what steps to take to make this happen. To help answer this question for all the potential guides among you, we spoke with Colin Garritty, our Guide Recruitment Manager at Head Office in Vancouver. Here is what Colin had to say:

One of the most common ways for someone to catch the guiding bug is after finding themselves guiding informally for friends and family that come to visit them. Often, they’ll get compliments on the great job they’ve done and suggestions like: “You should do this for a living!” This is a very common place for the seed of the tour guiding idea to take root.

It’s also quite common for people who already work in the tourism sector to want to branch out into a part of the industry that allows them to travel, connect with people, and share a discovery of the places that inspire them. It’s a big reason for getting involved in tourism in the first place and really, what could be more fulfilling?

As a person who reviews countless tour guide applications on a daily basis, I would say that a common mistake is to think that this interest in taking on a new career path is all that’s needed for someone to get started as a guide. It’s a great start! But there’s quite a lot to the profession that doesn’t always get evaluated by prospective guides. Here are some things you’ll want to take into consideration:

First, the ability to provide private transportation for one’s guests is a major logistical consideration. Passenger transport is regulated all over North America, and most states and provinces have a unique regulatory scheme in place. Ensuring that you have a suitable, modern vehicle, as well as the appropriate insurance and driver’s license comes first, but don’t neglect the importance of registering your vehicle locally for your proposed activity. If the costs seem onerous, investigate possible solutions like using public transportation, hiring a private driver when a car is required, making use of taxis, or even developing a cycling tour. Any transport solution should of course be a good match for your proposed tour concept, and your target market.

Guiding Regulations
In several cities in the US and Canada, tour guiding itself is a regulated activity. Interpreting historical and cultural monuments without the appropriate license and/or permit in New York City, Washington DC, New Orleans, Quebec City, Montreal, or a National Park can land someone in big trouble with local authorities in a hurry. These regulations aren’t in place to quash the dreams of would-be guides; they exist to ensure a high standard of interpretation is maintained at these cities and sites of national importance. Not only does pursuing the appropriate certification protect a guide from incursions with the law, it connects them with a broader community of tour guiding professionals from whom they can learn and grow their skill in the art of guiding.

Knowledge and training
If there is not a legal requirement in place, it doesn’t mean that best practices don’t exist! Depending on the type of tour guiding someone wants to pursue, education and training options abound. Whether it’s a degree in art history (many of our guides have pursued one of these), an oenology apprenticeship, or a wilderness guiding certification, it’s important to offer services that adhere to, or at least approach, a recognized standard in your field of choice. If it feels like your passion for travel and meeting people is enough, consider that established and successful tour guides don’t stop there; they pursue every avenue available to improve the quality of their services. Friendliness is an essential component of being a good guide, but it takes much more than good people skills to succeed.

And finally...
...there are the intangibles to think of. Do you have an entrepreneurial spirit? Are you comfortable with the uncertainty and seasonality typical of guiding work? Are you prepared to manage a disgruntled guest or possibly receive negative feedback? What if you find that your tour concept simply isn’t resonating with the traveler market that visits your region: are you willing to make a compromise in order to capture that market? Do you have the drive to make your idea a reality in spite of the limited market? How do you plan to stand out from your local competition? Do you have the collaborative nature and business sense needed to establish mutually beneficial relationships with local service providers?

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Thanks Colin! These are all important questions for potential guides to take into consideration. If you’re still raring to go, then get started on your homework! We’d love to hear from you once you’re ready.
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