Training to Become a Tour Guide
Compensation, Benefits, and Training Opportunities
Want to be a tour director? Yes, no, maybe so? After reading this three-part interview with Cherie Anderson, owner of Professional Tour Management Training, you’ll know plenty about the profession.
What would you say the average entry-level pay would be?
It varies a lot, depending on the tour operator, type of tour, and destination. Normally, on escorted tours, we earn salary, commission and gratuities. Most tour directors should be making between $250 and $450 a day with experience.
The entry-level destination management companies are starting out their newly trained tour directors at about $15-18 per hour. Experienced tour directors are earning $20-25 per hour, earning time and a half after 8 hours. I’ve heard from my students some DMC’s pay $50 an hour. The leads earn a few dollars more an hour.
Experienced travel staff working for incentive houses are now making $250 to $400 a day when working for the major companies.
You mentioned some of the benefits. Is there anyway to get things like medical or retirement?
Yes, there are lots of changes. In the past we had to buy our own medical insurance. However, in the last few years since the major laws suits over ’employee’ status and the growth in tourism, more companies are hiring their tour directors as employees and giving them benefits. Hopefully the policy will continue to grow.
Are there any particular jobs in the industry that people consider more glamorous or popular than others?
I’m sure most would say international tours are thought of as more glamorous. Most of my students say they want to go international. Some of our major tour operators will start their new tour directors on domestic tours before assigning them to international tours. It may not sound as glamorous but spending your days in National Parks, at popular resorts, NYC and such isn’t that bad. We have so many wonderful destinations in the US to share.
I have students that prefer the incentive market. They stay at four and five star hotels and work as a team. The income can be just as good and sometimes even better than on escorted tours.
Do companies help the guides with the transportation costs or anything like that?
Absolutely. It’s like any other job that requires travel. All of our travel expenses are paid including flights, hotels, meals, and tips. The company will give the tour director funds to cover their expenses and the tour expenses before they leave home.
Can you summarize quickly some of the advantages of training, like yours, versus somebody who just goes it on their own?
As I mentioned the tour operators get a lot of resumes from people that say they are qualified because they love travel and people. By saying that it may tell the tour operator this person thinks the job is being a host and their concern is probably for their own pleasure. It’s much more than that.
The job includes safety, legal aspects, specific procedures, documentation, narration, challenges and emergencies.
What are they going to do if someone gets ill or dies on the tour?
Unfortunately that’s part of our job too. The training tells the tour operator you know procedures, you know the ups and downs of our careers, their tour members will be taken care of and that the person is serious about the career. It will also save a lot time and frustration in getting into the industry.
Another big advantage to the training is being able to locate the employers and types of employers. Some people still think we work for travel agents. There are lots of different types of employers offering careers locally, domestically, and internationally.
The training will help you be successful and get hired. If they do and say what I list in the “Tour Director Training Guide” the group will run smoothly and they’ll feel they are traveling with a professional and experienced tour director. They’ll have challenges but I call that ‘job security’. If everything always ran smoothly on its own they wouldn’t need us.
I often have experienced tour directors and guides in my classes. It’s funny how they really appreciate the help since they know how important the steps are in leading tours. Some take it because they want to advance their careers.
Your job does not end when the tour ends, correct?
If you’re talking about the end of the day, after the tour members get off the coach, you’re right. There’s lots that goes on behind the scenes. These are responsibilities the tour members don’t know anything about. I cover it all and give examples of documents in the “Tour Director Training Guide”. It’s not really difficult, you just need to know what is expected.
Do you have a favorite story you might want to relate?
My favorite stories are from my students on their first tours. They tell me I’m right there on their shoulder the whole time. I also enjoy the fact that they get most excited about the challenges during the tour and are impressed with their own skills when they handle challenging situations.
One young man said, “I want to tell you that everything you said is exactly right. ” I stress that you have to know your job, be direct, and you have to pretty much stick to you decisions. He said he had tour members that when he told them what time they were departing the next day they said, “No, we want to go later. ” So he changed the time to just 15 minutes later. He then had the others in the tour very upset because he changed the time because others wanted it. So you have to know the group psychology. You make the decision, you stick with the decision, and you never ask for a vote. It’s not a democracy. People take tours because they want to be led, they don’t want to deal with decisions, that’s why they’re on an escorted tour.
I have another student who was up in Washington State and he called one of his first tours the Red Cross Tour. Within a couple of days he had a woman who slit her knee open and had to have 20 stitches and a man who had to be taken by helicopter to a hospital because he had a heart attack. These are sort of typical stories and things we talk about in class. When the students start working they find out this is what really happens! This is the reality of it all. Fortunately we don’t have emergencies and challenges everyday but at least our careers are rarely boring.
I have a student, who started out with Tauck and leads tours to the Alps. Her first tour was with Dominico and they sent her to the East Coast. She was to lead a tour from New Jersey to Myrtle Beach.
She prepared all the narration and when she arrived, she was told, “Now you’re doing the tour from New Jersey to Niagara Falls!” Â She had tour members from Germany, the United States, and England.
She had to translate documents, do the tour in two languages, and prepare the narration until two o’clock in the morning. I heard from her recently and she’s still with Tauck and now helping with their training.
So, they learn it is a job. When the new tour directors get back, I always ask, “How did you like it?” They all have said they absolutely love it!
If you could give people your best advice before pursing land tours as a career, what would it be?
Research the job and responsibilities. Jobmonkey.com has lots of information. It’s not for everyone. We’re not a host, we are on the tour working. If you find it is the career for you, than you’ll absolutely love it. Most tour directors will tell you they can’t imagine having a ‘real job’.
If you do want to be a tour director or tour guide, be persistent. Get training and experience. Get your resume out there, network and be persistent. The jobs are out there. It took me about one and half years to get my first job in travel. It doesn’t need to take my students that long, that’s why I started my training. The students leave the course with information it took me years to learn.
Tour Guide Training Resources:
You can email Cherie Anderson directly at Cherie@tourtraining or call her at: (949) 830-8603.