Tour Guide Job Descriptions

The formal definition of a tour guide as set out by the European Committee for Standardization or CEN is as follows:

Tourist guide: Person who guides visitors in the language of their choice and interprets the cultural and natural heritage of an area, which person normally possesses an area-specific qualification usually issued and/or recognized by the appropriate authority. (Wikipedia)

A tour escort differs slightly and is characterized by the fact that they travel on longer tours, often overnight. “Tour guide,” however, is the generic term used to classify all forms of travel group leaders including those working on motor coaches, trains, on cruise ships, or on walking tours.

Follows are brief descriptions of each kind of tour guide job that you can get:

Sightseeing Tour Guide

A sightseeing tour guide will work predominantly on tour busses or motor coaches.

Tour Guide Encompasses Many Types of Tours All Around the World

As the name suggests, they lead groups of tourists on sightseeing trips of their city or countryside. Sightseeing encompasses all forms of attractions and scenic sights, as well as historical landmarks and other interesting places. Sightseeing tour guides will often need to drive the tour bus, as well as provide the narration for the tour. Sightseeing tour guides are usually employed by a tour director. They are chosen for specific tours dependant on their skills and knowledge of an area.

Read more about becoming a sightseeing guide.

Step-On Tour Guide

A step-on tour guide is hired by a tour director or tour guide to provide specific information regarding a particular sight or attraction. As the name suggests, they step onto the bus or train for a certain portion of the tour. The tour guide in charge will make use of a step-on tour guide when entering a large national park or attraction like Disneyworld. In this instance, the step-on guide has far more intricate knowledge about the location. Step-on tour guides are based in the area where they lead tours and usually work for a private company, museum, national park, or resort.

Read more about becoming a step-on guide.

Shore Excursion Guide

A shore excursion guide usually works on board a cruise liner, but can also work for a charter touring yacht, or river cruise vessel. The shore excursion guides, also known as cruise hosts, will take groups of people from the cruise ship onto the shore at various ports along the journey and show them the main attractions. This requires a bit more research on the guide’s behalf, as you will be required to learn about every port city you travel to along the way, and there can be quite a few on one cruise. The guides must be able to speak the local language and will need to know where to find the best shopping spots, ideal dining experienced, organize tickets for museums and other attractions, as well as plan activities for the guests, such as water skiing, hiking, seeing a live theater or music performance and more. Shore excursion guides travel on the cruise ship as well, making this an exciting job to have, as you will get time off while at sea to explore the ship and take advantage of all the magnificent events and activities on board.

Read more about becoming a shore excursion guide.

Adventure, Sport and Eco Tour Guides

Adventure and ecotourism is on the rise and with it comes the need for highly skilled adventure and eco tour guides, as well as sports tour guides. You must be qualified and skilled in a certain type of sport and need to have a passion for adventure. Whether it is hiking through the Amazon, cycling through the French countryside, or leading a safari tour through the African savannah, adventure tour guides must be responsible at all times. They have the lives of their tour group in their hands, and must be fully trained in emergency and first aid. On eco tours and adventure tours, mapping out routes and strategically planning each day is imperative, and you have to understand the climate, weather conditions, and geography and wildlife of the area in order to lead a safe and successful tour. Ecotourism guides aim to educate people about the natural environment they are traveling in. They encourage conservation and preservation of natural ecosystems as well as biodiversity.

Read more about becoming an adventure, sport or ecotourism guide.

Tour Manager/Director

A tour manager is responsible for planning and organizing tours on behalf of tour operators. They often travel to foreign countries with the tour group and are the point of contact for the local tour guides, step-on guides and other suppliers. They make sure that travel documents and visas are in place, book and check the group into their accommodation, organize meals, settle bills, and are in charge of all the mundane tasks so that the travelers can simply sit back and relax.

Read more about becoming a tour manager.

Freelance Guides

Freelance guides usually work on a contract basis per tour and provide visitors to an area with local tour narration and navigation. Freelance guides are frequently hired by tour manager or tour operators who are traveling to your city from overseas. Some freelance guides are also private tour specialists and offer their services to any group of tourists no matter how small to lead them around the city, offer translation services and give them tips and advice for the tour. Private guides will normally meet the travelers at the airport and lead them to various locations and attractions each day. Freelance guides can charge on a per tour basis if working with an accredited operator or director, but may decide to charge per hour or per day if leading private tours, depending on the requirements of the visitors.

Read more about becoming a freelance guide.

GAP Year/Volunteer Guides

One of the best ways to gain experience in the tour guiding industry and to enjoy traveling at the same time is to volunteer for various tours. Safari guides in Africa are often hired on a voluntary basis and also work in conservation of the wildlife. Many GAP year programs exist that offer exciting tour guide opportunities such as leading ski tours in the Alps or working on game fishing tours in Alaska.

Read more about becoming a volunteer tour guide.

Each type of tour guide has a specific role to play in the travel and tourism industry with varying salaries, working conditions, qualifications, and job requirements. Learn more about each tour guide job mentioned above in the following detailed job description pages.


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