How Do I Become a Tour Guide?

If you’ve ever taken a tour of a historic landmark, a neighborhood of a city, or through an art installation, you may well know the wonder of having the very framework through which you perceive your visit transformed. Good tour guides can give you your historical, architectural, culinary, or aesthetic bearings in a place you have never been. They can take a day trip from interesting to downright enriching. And they play the role of educator and curator of good times with equal fervor. Now all of this depends on the setting you’re trying to become a tour guide in. But generally speaking, tour guides operate where there are publicly available attractions and many tourists. Take the French Quarter in New Orleans, or Pike Place Market in Seattle; both are areas of historical, cultural, and enterintainment interest where it can help to have a guide to show you around. There are of course many other settings in which tour guides operate: safari trips, haunted historic homes, large parks, cruise lines, and so forth. But unless you have access to private locations worth touring, the lowest barrier of entry for becoming a tour guide is in starting your own tour or finding a tour agency.

Step One: Stake out the Opportunities

This is the first and most general step of assessing whether you might have some good guide opportunities around you. Chances are you’ve already answered a number of the following questions, and you’re seeking additional information on becoming a tour guide. But in case you haven’t, here are a few questions to ask while determining a general plan for getting into guiding tours.

  • What locations near me are people likely to want tours of?
  • Do I have (or can I obtain) enough knowledge on the subject of the tour to craft a quality tour?
  • How can I differentiate my tour?
  • What is the competition like?
  • What are my costs and how much can I charge for giving tours?

Alternatively, there are many tour companies as well as large employers who seek tour guides. Common locations that seek tour guides include cruise ships, historic locations, professional sports teams, natural destinations, and resorts. If you’re looking to join an existing tour company, you’ll need at least complementary knowledge of what the tour covers, the willingness and ability to learn what the tour covers, and an entertaining and amicable demeanor. If you really want to cover all of your bases, the International Tour Management Institute offers yearly training on tour management, and many hospitality management and recreation management degree programs cover tours in coursework.

Step Two: Study Up, On the Tour and Regulations

Particularly if you’re planning on launching your own tour, you’ll need to create your routine and check with the applicable authorities. Directing a crowd around private locations will almost always require the consent of the owners of the location, while some public settings will regulate “street side” business dealings like the giving of a tour. In certain tourist-heavy destinations becoming a tour guide requires a license with the city or state. The following destinations require some sort of exam and licensure for guiding tours:

  • Washington, D.C.
  • New York, NY
  • Savannah, GA
  • Charleston, SC
  • Gettysburg Battlefield, PA
  • Vicksburg Battlefield, MI
  • New Orleans, LA

Depending on the nature of the tour and particularly tours that utilize vehicles or take visitors into potentially hazerdous locations will also likely need insurance coverage. For small or upstart tour companies, it is likely that the optimal way to mitigate risk is to establish an LLC through which some funding may be gathered and insurance taken out.

Step Three: Advertise

For most tour companies to begin making a living wage, multiple tours a day need to be booked. This means that you’ll likely quickly exhaust the number of clients you may find through word of mouth. Most tourist-heavy locations are loaded with locations for pamphlets, announcements, and flyers. Many dense areas also provide opportunities for tour guides to congregate in a crowded area before commencing the tour to gather customers. Furthermore, online review sites such as Yelp or FourSquare provide great opportunities to build up a reputation among tourists searching for tours. And finally (as we’ll cover more detail in the next section), many resorts, hotels, or local tourist-heavy locations recommend a small subset of local amenaties to their customers. Partnering up with local institutions can be a great way to obtain a steady flow of interested tour customers.

Step Four: Partnerships

While many great tours exist in public locations that don’t require additional partnerships, partnerships can help elevate your tour in two ways: access to private attractions and a steady flow of customers. Many historic or cultural locations monetize through hosting events and allowing tours through their property. If a location fits into the subject matter of your tour, then it can be a win-win situation to team up with local destinations. Common arrangements include giving locations a cut of your tour proceeds, or paying some discounted bulk rate for access to the location at regular intervals. The inclusion of exclusive locations on your tour then makes your tour even more of a draw.

A second way in which partnerships help in establishing a tour is by enabling you to obtain exclusive access to guests from out of town. Many hotels, resorts, or destinations have prefered partners that pay for ad space or more informal suggestions to guests looking for things to do. Next time you’re in a hotel check out the local amenaties in their guide book, chances are these are local businesses who have paid to be featured in what is often a go-to resource for visitors.

Step Five: Level Up

If you’ve established a popular tour, chances are there will come a time when you’ll need to hire other tour guides or find a way to manage the expansion of your offerings. Many tour companies employ tour directors or managers who deal with more strategic concerns such as advertising, partnerships, licensing, payment to contractors, and logistics. Many of these concerns are tackled in specializations of business and management degrees and particularly in hospitality management or recreation and tourism management degree programs. for a look at some of the best degree programs in hospitality management, check out our ranking page today!

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