How To Become a Tour Guide in 4 Steps (With Skills)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated September 1, 2022

Published March 29, 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

A picture of tourists outside the White House in Washington, D.C.

A tourist guide job is an exhilarating and rewarding way of sharing your love for travel, seeing the world and learning the culture and history of people from different countries and regions. This job is appealing if you desire to travel and meet people of different cultures, but it's beneficial to learn and understand how the industry works and how you can qualify for the job. Improve your chances of being hired as a tourist guide by meeting all qualifications and becoming certified and pursuing a relevant degree.

In this article, we discuss the role of a tour guide, how to become one, the average salary and job outlook for tour guides and tour guide skills.

What is a tourist guide?

Tourist guides are professionals who are certified and licensed to lead others on tours or trips. Tourist guides, also referred to as local guides, tour leaders or cultural interpreters, act as ambassadors of their countries because they are often the first to welcome tourists and the last to bid them farewell.

Tour leaders guide visitors and offer information about historical, cultural and religious sites like museums and other tourist attractions. The best guides are savvy and understand the regions where they work. For example, on historical or cultural sightseeing tours, the guides are able to provide tourists with interesting information because they are familiar with the sites. Most tour guides work on pre-established routes and visit selected locations. The tours they organize can be performed on foot or from buses.

Related: Tour Guiding Skills: Definition and Examples

What does a tourist guide do?

Tour guides help travelers visit attraction sites they are unfamiliar with. The guides organize trips with tourist groups to show the travelers essential sites and areas. With their knowledge of the local regions, tourist guides provide valuable information to tourists. Here are the roles and responsibilities of tour leaders:

  • Attend briefing meetings to learn essential details concerning tour groups. The data they receive about a tour group may include the specific needs of the tourists, the interests of the group and the rough age group.

  • Welcome and greet the tourists before they start the tour. The welcome session may entail learning the names of the tourists, memorizing the faces of the group and confirming the number of tourists in the group.

  • Explain emergency procedures to the tourists.

  • Provide tourists with promotional and educational materials about the sites they are to visit.

  • Escort the individual or tourist groups.

  • Inform the travelers about the tour routes.

  • Plan tour routes according to the length of the tour and the weather forecast.

  • Schedule the trips and purchase required tickets to tourist sites such as museums, parks, galleries, etc.

  • Find alternative activities in case of closure, cancellation or inclement weather.

  • Acquire and maintain required tour equipment.

  • Familiarize tourists with regions and establishments.

  • Provide safety devices.

  • Translate and interpret as needed.

  • Handle health emergencies.

Read more: What Does a Tour Guide Do? Definition, Types and Salary

Skills for a tourist guide

Excellent tour guides possess significant and accurate knowledge of tourist sites and regions. The guides provide simple and engaging experiences, influence and personal touch to tourists. The following are qualities that excellent tour guides should possess:

Knowledge of the area and tourist attractions: Tour guides educate and direct tourists. Excellent tour leaders are extremely familiar with the various sites within their region. The best guides do more than memorize a script about select locations on their route. They know the entire area well so that they are able to answer unexpected questions and offer recommendations to tourists. Knowledgeable guides make trips memorable and insightful.

  • Excellent communication skills: Guides should speak clearly and pronounce the words correctly to ensure effective communication and avoid misunderstandings. Excellent tour guides also understand how to command the attention of several people at once.

  • Empathy and understanding: To become an excellent tour guide, you have to possess the ability to handle clients' different norms with empathy and understanding. Guides should also be sensitive and able to accommodate a guest with special needs.

  • Charisma and friendliness: Encouraging effective conversations, demonstrating passion, asking questions and interestingly providing information can be excellent ways of building rapport with tourists. When guides exhibit patience a cheerful, engaging demeanor, they encourage tourists to come back to the area another time.

  • Flexibility and the ability to improvise: To ensure tourists remain interested in listening, guides may have to change their tone, wording or content. Guides may also have to read body language and adopt new ways of working and stay up-to-date on trends and technological innovations.

  • Story-telling skills: Tourists can tell the difference between a guide who is genuinely enthusiastic and one who is not. Take the time to learn the history of the places on your tour so that you can tell engaging stories.

  • Punctuality: Guides have a schedule to follow with a specific amount of time allocated for every trip activity. Being organized is a key to being punctual and remaining on schedule.

  • Problem-solving skills: Often challenges arise suddenly and unexpectedly, leaving guides with limited time and resources to find a solution. Tour guides with problem-solving skills exhibit creative and innovative thinking, lateral minds, resilience and strong analytical skills.

  • Leadership abilities: Tourist guides don't seem dominating or abrasive but understand how to keep everyone on track. Great tour guides also exhibit other leadership qualities such as integrity, gratitude, influence and learning agility.

Related: Important Tour Guide Skills and How To Develop Them

How to become a tourist guide

If you are interested in becoming a tour guide, you have to understand what it takes and the process of qualifying for the job. Here are the steps to becoming a licensed tour guide:

1. Determine if you actually want to be a tour guide

Getting paid to travel and visit fascinating sites can be enticing, but it's important to have realistic expectations. Becoming a tour leader does not mean that you get a permanent vacation. The field is competitive and requires people who are good at networking and hardworking. Conduct thorough research to learn about the requirements to become a tour guide, then evaluate whether you possess the necessary skills and want to enter this field.

2. Determine the guiding job you want

After deciding that you want to be a tour guide, think of the type of tour guide you want to become. Consider your passions and interests, and think about whether you wish to work in your hometown or relocate to another tourist destination. Also, look for tour work that will fit into your schedule. The following are a few different types of tour jobs to consider:

  • Walking tour leader: Walking tour guides work within a specific region and understand the region's history. These tour guides take travelers through various tourist sites along the way.

  • Bus city guides: Bus guides, also known as motorcoach guides, do their work on buses. Using microphones, they narrate stories about the city to tourists as the bus drives past attractions.

  • Museum guides: Museum guides take tourists through museums, discussing and explaining the history of the art and exhibits.

  • Adventure guides: Adventure guides accompany tourists on more intense tours, such as hiking or rafting in an exotic location or a national park. If you are interested and have a passion for outdoor activities, this can be the ideal type of tour job for you.

3. Get training and a work permit

Most tour guide roles require high school diplomas as the minimum qualification. However, other tourist guide jobs require degrees. For instance, to become a museum guide, you may need a college degree in a program relevant to museums. If you are considering a tourist guide job as your career, pursuing tour guide-related programs is an ideal plan. For instance, you can focus your education on subjects such as public speaking, history, transportation and safety.

Depending on the state you want to work in, you may be required to acquire a tour guide license. For instance, if you plan to work in the following cities or locations, you must earn a license first:

  • New Orleans

  • New York

  • Charleston

  • Vicksburg Battlefield

  • Savannah

  • Gettysburg Battlefield

  • Washington, D.C.

4. Start working and continue learning

After you are certified and ready to work as a tourist guide, the next chapter is finding a job. You can start your own tour guide company or seek employment. Apply for a tour guide job in many companies to stand a chance of getting at least one job opportunity. You can also search for tour guide jobs online.

Tour guide training is not a one-time thing. Guides acquire new skills and knowledge every day. The more information a tour guide has, the better they can do their job. Keep reading and discovering new things to increase your value as an employee in the future.

Related: How To Work as a Freelance Tour Guide in 5 Steps

Salary and job outlook for tour guides

The BLS also reports that the overall demand for tourist guide services is anticipated to grow by 29% by 2030, much faster than the average growth of jobs expected across all industries. Although the amount a tour guide earns can differ from state to state, the national average salary in the U.S. is $40,450 per year.

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