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Seasoned Tour Guides Tell All

It is always useful to hear it from the horse's mouth, so to speak, which is why we have conducted interviews with two tour guides located on two different continents to offer you a better insight into the life of a tour guide and to find out what it is really like on the job.

A South African Japanese Tour Guide

Mai Umbhau born to a Japanese mother and Japanese/German father has been travelling all her life. Her father has been a tour guide for the last 30 years and she decided to follow in his footsteps offering a much needed service in South Africa, where she has grown up. Miss Umbhau is a tourist guide located in Cape Town, South Africa and leads Japanese only tour groups around the vibrant city. Her skills include speaking fluent Japanese, which is obviously very necessary in this position. The tours are predominantly large coach tours where she provides the narration as they travel to various locations in and around the city. In the following interview, she explains how she started as a tour guide and what she enjoys most about it.

How Did You Become a Tour Guide?

Well, with a father in the industry, I pretty much learnt what I could from him. When I left school, I knew that this was the field I wanted to pursue, so I enrolled at the Livingstone Tourism Academy. It was a 3 week course, and gave me all the knowledge I needed to lead tour groups.

What Kinds of Tour Groups Do You Lead?

I lead Japanese Tour Groups. Because I am Japanese and know the language, it is an ideal position for me to be in. Many Japanese tourists visit Cape Town each year and I am one of the only guides that speak the language - aside from my father of course! Different nationalities have different peak seasons for visiting South Africa. For example, the Japanese peak season is September and October, whereas Italians tend to book tours through July, August and September.

What Qualifications Do You Need to Become a Tour Guide in South Africa?

In any country you need to complete some course or other to qualify as a tourist guide. Some are long courses, whilst others are quite short, like the course I took. In South Africa, you need a Tour Guiding License, and one gets this by completing the Tour Guiding course. You also need a basic Level 1 First Aid Certificate. This is just in case any member of your tour group gets ill. Most of our tour groups consist of elderly people, and sometimes they can struggle with the heat or just the exhaustion of being in a tour bus the whole day.

What Is Your Salary and What Benefits Do You Receive if Any?

I am a freelance tour guides, and therefore do not earn an annual salary, but rather work on a per tour or commission basis. We will invoice the tour operator at the end of each tour and will be paid accordingly. There are no benefits to speak of in terms of medical either, but I do get a free lunch and dinner on the tour.

What Are Your Working Days/Hours?

Working hours vary - It can be anywhere from three hours up to 15 hours (a transfer is usually about three hours, whereas a full day is ten hours and full day with dinner is 15 hours).

What Do You Enjoy About Being a Tour Guide?

I have a passion for working with people and I enjoy being a tourist guide as I get to show tourists what a wonderful country this is. Every day is a challenge working with different people and situations, but it is exciting and rewarding. I also get to spend time outdoors enjoying the sights and sounds - Even though I take groups to the same places every day, it still beats sitting in an office all day long!

Here is a sample itinerary for a sightseeing tour of Cape Town supplied by Miss Umbhau:

8:00am - Meet the clients at hotel reception at the Table Bay Hotel.
After breakfast, depart for a full day tour of the Cape Peninsula.
Depart Cape Town and head to Hout Bay.
9:15am - Enjoy the Seal Island tour with Drumbeat Charters.
Proceed to Boulders Beach
12:30pm - Lunch at Seaforth Restaurant - Menu D (French salad, 250g Crayfish served with rice, and Malva pudding - tea/coffee)
After lunch visit the Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve (Cape Point funicular tickets included in the price).
7:00pm - Dinner at Nobu Restaurant - reservation only - voucher (Meal allowance for guide and driver)
Overnight accommodation at Tintswalo Atlantic on a B&B basis.

An Australian Aboriginal Tour Guide

Chris is a tour guide living in Yulara, Australia, which is located right next to Uluru, or Ayres Rock, as most people know it. He works for an aboriginal tour company providing tours of the area and teaching visitors about the cultures and traditions of the Aboriginal people.

How Did You Get Into the Tour Guide Business?

Well, a friend of mine actually got me into it. He does a bit of bus driving and said to me, "Hey, you'd like this. It's good fun - you get to meet lots of people, lots of girls. Why don't you give it a go?" So I did. I started out driving Sydney to Cairns which is a three thousand kilometer journey and lots of fun. But I always wanted to come out here to the Northern Territory, or the frontier territory as it is called. I came here nine months ago. Being single it is pretty easy. You just pack up and move.

What is Your Day Like?

Well, the best thing about Ayres Rock that everyone comes to see is the colors that it changes at sunrise and sunset. I do sunrise tours which last about six or seven hours in the morning. I come back into Yulara, usually have a shower and a rest for a couple of hours, maybe a sleep, before starting again at two o'clock in the afternoon. Same again: pick up people, take them out to the rock, to the cultural centre, have another cup of coffee and hand them over to their aboriginal guide for a couple of hours. They go into a water hole and get shown bush foods and then I take people to sunset. I usually get home anywhere from six o'clock to eight o'clock at night depending on the times during the year, where winter is earlier and summer is later. The good thing is that I do four days on and three days off. In between tours and on my days off, I do a lot of reading, studying the language to try and become an interpreter, but I am finding it very difficult. I speak Australian English and trying to pronounce the words and the sounds in Pitjantjatjara, the aboriginal language is not easy.

Chris also thoroughly enjoys his job and finds it easy and rewarding, even though the hours are quite long.

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