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How to Become a Tour Guide

By Alyciah Beavers

Published:

If you’ve been wondering how to embark on a fulfilling journey as a tour guide, this article is your roadmap to a career that lets you explore the world while sharing its wonders with others. Here, we discuss the role of a tour guide, how to become one, and some of the tour guide skills you should possess. Plus, we’ll delve into what the tour guide salary is like, helping you make an informed decision about this exciting profession.

Career Summary

Tour Guide Salary

Tour Guide Salary

Are you wondering how much a tour guide earns in the United States? Well, the average tour guide salary is $40K per year. However, there is an estimated addition of $18K each year in bonuses, commissions, profit sharing, and tour guide tips from clients.

According to Glassdoor, here is the breakdown per each level:

  • Entry Salary (US$45k)
  • Median Salary (US$59k)
  • Executive Salary (US$79k)

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the average wage in the US is $61,900, meaning that tour guide salary falls behind the national average of other occupations.

What does a Tour Guide do?

A tour guide, also called a tour leader or local guide, plays a considerable role in promoting and preserving a town, city, organization, or country’s historical and cultural heritage. These are certified professionals licensed to lead other people on trips and tours while providing an informative, educational, and enjoyable experience.

Tour Guide Career Progression

  • Entry-Level Tour Guide:  Leading basic tours, assisting with logistics, and providing introductory information to tourists.
  • Tour Guide:  Leading a variety of tours, providing in-depth information, and ensuring an enjoyable experience for tourists.
  • Senior Tour Guide: Taking on more complex and specialized tours, training and supervising junior guides, and often acting as a point of contact for clients.
  • Specialized Tour Guide: Specialized tour guides focus on specific niches or interests within the industry, such as history, art, adventure, wildlife, or culinary tours.
  • Tour Manager: They oversee the logistics and operations of multiple tours and ensure that all aspects of a tour, including transportation, accommodations, and activities, run smoothly.
  • Tour Company Owner or CEO: At the highest level, a tour company’s executive director oversees the entire business. They set the company’s vision, strategy, and direction, manage financial aspects, and make critical decisions impacting its growth and success.
Tour Guide Career Progression

The Pros and Cons of Working as a Tour Guide

Pros:

  • You will live your dream and share your exploration and traveling passion with others.
  • It is an opportunity to interact and relate with people from diverse walks of life and learn about different cultures.
  • You are constantly learning about the history, culture, and geography of the places you guide.
  • It is an opportunity to assist people in having memorable experiences and creating lasting memories.

Cons:

  • Tour guides may have to give the same tour multiple times daily, leading to repetition and potential monotony.
  • Career growth and advancement opportunities may be limited for tour guides, as it’s often a front-line, customer-facing role.
  • Sometimes, tour guides must work in various weather conditions, which can be uncomfortable and challenging.
  • Guides may need to work with tourists who speak different languages, creating communication challenges.

Useful Tour Guide Skills to Have

  • Communication Skills
  • Interpersonal Skills
  • Public speaking Skills
  • Storytelling Skills
  • Multilingual Skills

Popular Tour Guide Specialties

  • Historical and Cultural Tours
  • Culinary Tours
  • Wildlife and Eco-Tours
  • Religious and Spiritual Tours
  • Art Tours
  • City Tours

How to Become a Tour Guide

Tour Guide 3 Steps to Career

Education

Do I Need A Degree To Become A Tour Guide?

You only need a high school diploma to become a tour guide. However, different tour guide jobs need a degree. For example, to become a tour guide in a museum, you might require a degree in history-related fields.

Here are some key points to consider in determining whether to get a degree or not:

  • Location and Regulations: The requirements for becoming a tour guide can vary by country and region. Some places may have specific regulations or licensing requirements for tour guides, which may or may not include the need for a degree. It’s essential to research the rules in your specific area.
  • Type of Tours: The tours you want to guide can also influence the educational requirements. For example, leading historical or cultural tours may require more specialized knowledge and may be more likely to necessitate a degree in history, art, or a related field.
  • Tour Company or Organization: Some tour companies or organizations may have specific requirements. Some may prioritize experience, personality, and local knowledge over formal education, while others may prefer candidates with relevant degrees or certifications.
  • Tourist Demands: Understanding the needs and interests of the tourists you plan to guide is crucial. Some tourists may prefer guides with in-depth knowledge, which a degree can provide, while others may prioritize guides that offer a unique and engaging experience.
  • Language Skills: Fluency in one or more languages can be a valuable asset for a tour guide. Language proficiency may sometimes be more important than a formal degree.
  • Local Knowledge: For tours in a specific location, deep local knowledge, history, and cultural insights are often precious. This kind of expertise doesn’t necessarily require a formal degree.

What are the Benefits of Getting a Degree in Tourism?

Getting a degree in tourism can be important for several reasons, depending on your career goals and the specific context of the tourism industry in your region.

Here are some reasons why obtaining a degree in tourism can be beneficial:

  • Knowledge and Expertise: A degree in tourism provides a comprehensive understanding of the local culture, history, geography, and other relevant information about the destinations you’ll be guiding people through. This knowledge can enhance the quality of your tours and make you a more informative and engaging guide.
  • Professionalism: A degree can help you develop the tour guide skills and professionalism required to excel in the field. You’ll learn about customer service, communication, and safety protocols, which can enhance the overall experience for tourists and ensure their safety.
  • Legal and Regulatory Requirements: Tour guides must be licensed or certified in many places, and a degree in tourism can help you meet these regulatory requirements. It can also provide a strong foundation for passing required exams or assessments.
  • Career Advancement: A degree can open up more career opportunities within the tourism industry. For example, you might qualify for higher-paying positions, such as managing a team of guides or working as a travel consultant or planner.
  • Networking: While pursuing a degree, you’ll have the opportunity to network with other students, professors, and industry professionals.
  • Global Perspective: Some tour guide programs cover international tourism, which can be especially valuable for working in a worldwide or cross-cultural context. It can help you understand the needs and expectations of tourists from diverse backgrounds.

How Long Does It Take To Get A Degree In Tourism?

The time it takes to earn a degree in tourism can vary depending on several factors, including the degree level and whether you’re pursuing the degree full-time or part-time.

Here’s a general overview of the different types of degrees in tourism and their durations:

  • Certificate in Hospitality and Tourism: It takes at least two weeks to complete a certificate in tourism and hospitality, where you will also get on-site training.
  • Associate’s Degree: An associate’s degree in tourism or a related field takes around two years of full-time study. You will find these programs at community colleges or vocational schools.
  • Bachelor’s Degree: A bachelor’s degree in tourism or hospitality management takes about 3 to 4 years of full-time study. The exact duration can vary by country and specific program requirements.
  • Master’s Degree: A master’s degree in tourism or a related field usually takes 1 to 2 years of full-time study after obtaining a bachelor’s degree. Some programs may offer accelerated options, and the duration may also depend on the specific master’s program.

How Much Does It Cost To Study Hospitality And Tourism At University?

The cost of studying Hospitality and Tourism at a university can vary widely depending on several factors, including the region where you choose to study, the specific university or college you attend, your residency status, and the level of the program, whether undergraduate or postgraduate.

On average, public colleges charge $9,300 per year for in-state students, whereas out-of-state students pay $26,400 for a bachelor’s degree

Here are factors that can influence the cost:

  • Location: Tuition fees can vary significantly from one state to another. 
  • University: The reputation and ranking of the university can impact tuition costs. More prestigious universities may charge higher tuition fees.
  • Degree Level: Undergraduate programs are typically less expensive than postgraduate programs such as a master’s program.
  • Duration of Program: Longer programs will cost more than shorter ones.
  • Additional Costs: Consider other expenses, such as housing, textbooks, transportation, and living costs, when calculating the total cost of your education.
  • Scholarships and Financial Aid: Many universities offer scholarships and financial aid to help students offset the cost of their education.

Can I Become A Tour Guide Through Online Education?

Are you researching how to become a tour guide and wondering if you can study online? Yes, you can. And, it is cheaper to study online to become a tour guide.

Here’s a general outline of the steps involved in becoming a tour guide and where online education can fit in:

  • Research and Familiarization: Start by gaining in-depth knowledge about the area where you wish to become a tour guide. This may involve online research, reading books, and watching documentaries or online courses related to the region’s history, culture, and geography.
  • Formal Education: Many universities and colleges offer online degrees or certificates in tourism, hospitality, history, or cultural studies, which can provide you with a strong educational foundation. 
  • Customer Service and Soft Skills: Effective communication, people skills, and customer service are crucial for tour guides. You can improve these skills through online courses, workshops, and books on customer service and interpersonal communication.

What Are Some Web Resources To Learn Skills To Become A Tour Guide?

Here are some web resources to help you develop the necessary tour guide skills and knowledge related to tourism and hospitality:

  • National Tour Association (NTA): The NTA provides resources, education, and networking opportunities for tour professionals. Their website offers webinars, articles, and publications on tour guiding and tourism.
  • International Tour Management Institute (ITMI): ITMI offers online courses and resources for tour guides and directors. They cover various aspects of tour management, from group dynamics to destination knowledge.
  • Tourism e-Lab: This e-learning platform offers a wide range of online courses related to tourism and hospitality. Courses cover tour guiding, travel management, and customer service.
  • World Federation of Tourist Guide Associations (WFTGA): The WFTGA website provides information about professional tour guiding standards, international tour guiding events, and educational opportunities.
  • Tourism and Hospitality Schools’ Websites: Many universities and colleges with programs in tourism and hospitality offer free resources, such as lecture notes and presentations, on their websites. These resources can help gain a more in-depth understanding of the field.
  • Forums and Online Communities: Joining forums and communities of tour guides can be a great way to learn from experienced guides, exchange tour guide tips, and get advice. Look for platforms like TripAdvisor’s forums forums or dedicated tour guide forums.

Practical Experience

What Are Internship Opportunities For A Tour Guide?

Internship opportunities for a tour guide can be a great way to gain practical experience and develop the skills necessary for a career in tourism and hospitality.

Here are some internship opportunities that can help you on your path to becoming a tour guide:

  • Tour Companies: Many tour companies offer internships for individuals interested in becoming tour guides. These internships may involve shadowing experienced guides, learning about different tour routes, and assisting with tour logistics.
  • Museums and Cultural Institutions: Museums and cultural institutions often offer internships related to guided tours. These internships may involve researching and developing tour content, leading tours, and interacting with visitors.
  • National and State Parks: If you’re interested in nature and outdoor activities, consider internships at national and state parks. These opportunities can provide you with experience in guiding hikes, wildlife tours, and educational programs.
  • Historical Sites: Historical sites and landmarks often employ tour guides. Interning at such locations can give you hands-on experience sharing historical and cultural information with visitors.
  • Travel Agencies: Some travel agencies offer internships that involve assisting clients with tour bookings, creating itineraries, and learning about various travel destinations.
  • Cruise Lines: If you’re interested in working as a tour guide on cruise ships, consider internships with cruise lines. These internships may involve assisting with onboard tours and excursions.
  • Hospitality Industry: Some internships in the hospitality industry can also be relevant for tour guides. Working at hotels, resorts, or hostels can help you gain customer service and guest interaction skills.

What Skills Will I Learn as a Tour Guide?

Here are some of the critical skills you’ll develop as a tour guide:

  • Knowledge of the Destination: A tour guide must have in-depth knowledge about the location they are guiding in. This includes historical, cultural, and geographical information and up-to-date information on local events and attractions.
  • Communication Skills: Effective communication is crucial. You need to convey information clearly and engagingly to your clients. This includes public speaking, storytelling, and interpersonal communication.
  • Adaptability: Tour guides must be flexible and adapt to unexpected changes or challenges during tours, such as weather, transportation issues, or last-minute schedule changes.
  • Leadership: You will lead a group, manage their behavior, and ensure they follow the tour’s rules and guidelines.
  • Time Management: Tours often have tight schedules, so keeping the group on time and track is crucial.
  • Safety Awareness: Ensuring the safety of your clients is paramount. You need to be trained in first aid and emergency procedures and understand the local safety regulations well.
  • Cultural Sensitivity: Be aware of cultural norms and differences to respect the traditions and customs of your clients, especially in a multicultural environment.
  • Navigation: Familiarity with the area’s layout and understanding of maps and GPS systems are valuable for navigating destinations.
  • Storytelling: Being able to tell engaging and informative stories about the location’s history, culture, and landmarks can make the tour more enjoyable and memorable for your clients.
  • Knowledge of Tour Logistics: Understanding the logistics of organizing and conducting tours, such as transportation, entrance fees, permits, and other administrative tasks.
  • Conflict Resolution: Dealing with client disputes or conflicts within the group diplomatically and effectively is an important skill.
  • Technology: Proficiency with technology, including audio equipment, multimedia presentations, and mobile apps, helps guide the tourists, thus enhancing the tour experience.

What is the Work-Life Balance of a Tour Guide?

A tour guide’s work-life balance can vary depending on several factors, including the type of tours they lead, their company, their experience, and their personal preferences.

Here are some key considerations:

  • Seasonality: Tour guides often work in a seasonal industry. Summer seasons and holidays, for instance, have long, busy workdays with limited time off. In contrast, during the off-season, they may have more flexibility and free time.
  • Hours of Operation: Some tours, like day tours or city tours, have regular working hours, while others, like multi-day or specialized tours, may require irregular or longer hours. Evening and weekend work is common in the industry.
  • Flexibility: Independent tour guides may have more control over their schedules and can better manage their work-life balance. On the other hand, guides employed by larger tour companies may have less flexibility and be subject to fixed plans.
  • Physical Demands: Tour guiding can be physically demanding, as guides often spend long hours on their feet and may need to keep up with a fast-paced itinerary. This can impact their work-life balance and overall well-being.
  • Personal Preferences: Some tour guides may prefer a more flexible, on-the-go lifestyle, while others may value a more structured work schedule. The balance between work and personal life can vary based on individual preferences.
  • Time Off: Tour guides work when others have time off, such as weekends and holidays. This can be both an advantage and a disadvantage, as it allows them to meet tourists during these high-demand periods but can limit their leisure time.
  • Burnout: The nature of the job, with its long hours, repetitive information delivery, and the need to cater to tourists’ needs, can lead to burnout if not appropriately managed.

What’s the Career Outlook for Tour Guides?

According to BLS, the projected employment outlook for a tour guide will change drastically from 2022 to 2032, with 4,300 new jobs each year and an 8% growth in this industry.

However, the career outlook for tour guides depends on the location, the type of tours offered, and economic conditions. 

Tour Guide Popular Career Specialties

What Are The Job Opportunities Of A Tour Guide?

Job opportunities for tour guides can vary depending on their location, specialization, and skills.

Here are some common job opportunities for tour guides:

  • City Tour Guide: City tour guides lead tourists on tours of urban areas, providing historical, cultural, and architectural information about the city’s landmarks, neighborhoods, and attractions.
  • Museum Tour Guide: Tour guides work in museums and art galleries, offering explanations and insights about the exhibits and artifacts.
  • Nature and Adventure Tour Guide: These guides lead outdoor tours, such as hiking, wildlife safaris, or adventure activities like rafting or zip-lining. They share their knowledge about local flora, fauna, and outdoor experiences.
  • Cultural Tour Guide: Tour guides showcase a region’s local culture, traditions, and customs. They often lead tours to festivals, historical sites, and cultural events.
  • Wine Tour Guide: Wine tour guides work in vineyards and wineries, leading tours that include wine tastings and education about the winemaking process.
  • Food Tour Guide: Food tour guides introduce tourists to local culinary delights, taking them to restaurants, markets, and food-related events to sample regional dishes.
  • Historic Tour Guide: Historic tour guides specialize in providing insights into the history of a particular location or landmark. They may lead tours of historical sites, battlefields, or architectural wonders.
  • Educational Tour Guide: Educational tour guides work with school groups or educational institutions, providing informative tours focused on history, science, or culture.
  • Cruise Ship Tour Guide: Cruise ship tour guides organize and lead shore excursions for cruise passengers at various ports of call.
  • Language-Specific Tour Guide: If you are proficient in a foreign language, you can be a language-specific tour guide for tourists who speak your language. This is especially valuable in regions popular with international tourists.
  • Private Tour Guide: Some tour guides offer private tours tailored to the specific interests of individual or small groups of travelers.
  • Virtual Tour Guide: With the rise of virtual tourism and online experiences, there is a growing demand for virtual tour guides who lead tours via video conferencing or virtual reality platforms.

What Type of Organizations Hire a Tour Guide?

The type of companies or organizations that hire tour guides can vary based on the tours’ nature and the guiding services’ specific focus.

Here are some examples:

  • Tour Operators
  • Travel Agencies
  • Museums and Cultural Institutions
  • National and State Parks
  • Cruise Lines
  • Historical Sites and Landmarks
  • Zoos and Aquariums
  • Adventure and Eco-Tourism Companies
  • Walking and Segway Tour Companies
  • Bus and Trolley Tour Companies
  • Language Schools
  • Event and Conference Organizers
  • Educational Institutions

Should I become a Tour Guide?

Looking at all the information we have discussed above, becoming a tour guide will help you develop new skills such as adaptability and communication skills. There is a chance to grow and move from entry-level to CEO based on your specialty.

However, the annual average wage is relatively lower than other occupations, which might challenge some. Therefore, look at your skills, passion, and lifetime goals to determine if the career works for you.

Careers Related to Tour Guide


Alyciah Beavers

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