Overview of Tour Guide Employment

Since the beginning of time, man has offered guiding services for visitors to an area. The guide of escort was there to ensure the safety of the travelers, to provide navigation and to lead them to specific places. To this day, the essence of guiding has not changed – it has just evolved. More and more travelers descend upon various countries around the world and wish to learn more about its attractions and cultures.

Tour Guides Must be Knowledgeable on All Local Offerings

This is where tour guides are needed. Exclusivity is an important factor when it comes to tour guides, and many visitors will pay top dollar to employ a private tour guide who can offer them the most intricate and comprehensive tour possible.

Travelers are excited to go home and retell tales of ancient tribes and of endangered rainforests. This is where tour guiding has led over the last few hundred years. People want to leave a foreign country with more knowledge than when they first arrived, and not just with information that they could find at a bookstore or on the internet. Tour guides are story tellers and lead groups of travelers to interesting places that are sometimes unknown to the outsider or untrained eye.

Tourism accounts for about 25 % of any country’s economy, therefore land tours are a segment of the economy that must be nourished, and this means offering guided tours to complete the visitor experience.

The History of Land Tours

Guiding was always a matter of necessity with nomadic tribes being the first humans to lead groups of people across countries in search of food, shelter and for the change of the seasons, as well as for hunting. In later times, travelers in search of gold, silver, diamonds, silk, and spices made use of guides to navigate unknown territories and to communicate with the natives. Perhaps one of the earliest and most recognized tour guides is Sacagawea, a Shoshone Indian woman who guided American West explorers, Lewis and Clark.

This evolved into tours of attractions for recreational purposes, with the first regular land tours in the United States being at Yellowstone National Park and the Gettysburg National Military Park. In Europe, during the 1840’s, Thomas Cook led the first tours of Paris, and soon after across the whole of Europe. England was actually the first country to train and regulate tour guiding as an industry and to this day, it remains an exciting and prestigious career option, especially for those who enjoy travelling.

The modern day land tour consists of a group of tourists, usually around 40 or so in a group. The tour guides must lead the tourists on carefully planned itineraries visiting all the important and interesting places in a city or town. These can be bus tours, train tours, or walking tours.

Tours can also be planned around a certain passion or interest such a cycling, where the entire group will travel to various towns on a bicycle. You also find horse riding tours, motorbike tours, kayaking tours and much more. To work on any of these tours, you will need to be experienced in the activity, and you will also need to have the ability to offer assistance to any of your tour group who might be struggling. It is important as the tour guide, to be the leader and take control.

Land tours traditionally involved meeting a group of tourists and showing them a specific location, but nowadays land tours can range anywhere from 1 day to 14 days or longer where an entire country is explored, or various cities are visited. Tours can take place on board cruise liners, where shore excursions are organized along the way as the cruise ships makes various stops throughout the journey. This requires tour guides to be more confident that ever before, as they need to provide the visitors with aid and contemporary, historical, and cultural information about the area being toured including significant historical sites, religious sites, landscapes, museums, and any other tourist attractions.

Did You Know? Travel and tourism is the largest and fastest growing industry in the world, making up at least 25 % of the economy in most countries.

The Job of a Tour Guide

Aside from being the point of contact for tourists when they reach a foreign destination, a tour guide, or tourist guide, will be there to handle all of the mundane travelling aspects for visitors, so that they can go out and enjoy their vacation. Tour guides will make sure that accommodation is booked and check the travelers in. They will also organize sight-seeing trips and be a translator if required. People enjoy having a travel companion as well as someone who knows the area very well. A tour guide can offer more in depth knowledge about the city being visited and will also be able to lead their group to a lot of the best attractions.

Tour guides are also there to advise tourists about spending money wisely, on cultures and customs, on the weather, on the best places t shop and dine, and much more. Tour guides are generally required to be from the area that they are leading tour groups around, but it is also recommended that a second or third language is spoken. This is something that many tour agencies look for. Being a people person is also an important requirement, as explained by one tour guide:

“Basically all your time is spent with people – your customers. You travel with them, eat with them, and tour with them all day.”

Tour guides also have to have the ability to plan ahead and think quickly, as any number of emergencies can crop up whilst planning a tour, or whilst on a tour.

“Along with the sometimes difficult passengers that you can get, there are also instances where you will have an emergency like a flood or hurricane to deal with, which will force you to change the entire tour itinerary. People can get sick, reservations can be lost, and passengers can be late or not show up for the bus. You need to be able to think on your feet.”

Being customer service orientated is an integral part of being a tour guide and knowing how to handle certain unexpected situations is key to being a successful guide.

Quick Fact: 90 % of travelers prefer tour guides who are native to the country that they are touring.

The next few segments will discuss in more detail what you need to know about becoming a tour guide, the different types of tour guide jobs you can get, and how to get tour guide training, and where to find land tour jobs. We also have in depth interviews with various tour guides and tour managers to give you an insight into the life of a tour guide or tour director.

Quick Summary:

  • Guiding is one of the oldest industries known to man.
  • Land tours can last anywhere from one day up to one week or longer.
  • Land tours can be offered on a coach, train, cruise ship, or on foot.
  • Anyone can be a tour guide.


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