How To Become a Licensed Tourist Guide

By Indeed Editorial Team

March 25, 2021

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 and how to become one.

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.

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:

  • Attending 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.

  • Welcoming and greeting 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.

  • Explaining emergency procedures to the tourists

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

  • Escorting the individual or tourist groups

  • Informing the travelers about the tour routes

  • Planning tour routes according to the length of tour and the weather forecast

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

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

  • Acquiring and maintaining required tour equipment

  • Familiarizing tourists with regions and establishments

  • Providing safety devices

  • Translating and interpreting as needed

  • Handling health emergencies

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 of 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.

To acquire a tour guide license in New York City, you must take and pass the Professional Licensing Examination. This is a 150-question exam where you must answer at least 97 questions correctly in order to pass. The questions cover topics like New York City's architectural landmarks, history and transportation.

In Washington, D.C, you have to submit an application and complete the Professional Sightseeing Tour Guide Exam. To acquire a license in Washington D.C., you must possess excellent English communication skills and prove you have not been charged with criminal offenses within the last five years by passing a criminal history background check.

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 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.

Salary and job outlook for tour guides

Tour guides are an essential part of the tourism sector. According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS), there are around 47,940 tour guides in the U.S., and the number is expected to grow. The BLS also reports that the overall demand for tourist guide services is anticipated to grow by 10% by 2026. This forecasted growth is well above the average 4% growth 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 $28,960 per year.

Read more: How Much Does a Tour Guide Make in the United States?

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

Communication is critical for tour guides. Tourists may come from different parts of the world and speak a different language. Since not everyone can speak and understand English, being fluent in foreign languages can be an invaluable skill for tour guides. 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

Tour guides deal with clients of different backgrounds, cultures, age groups, nationalities and values. 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.

Related: How To Be Empathetic in the Workplace

Charisma and friendliness

Tour guides are entertaining and charismatic. A tour guide has to find opportunities to make the trip a friendly, delightful, fascinating, charming and funny experience. They excel at building rapport with their tour groups. Encouraging effective conversations, demonstrating passion, asking questions and interestingly providing information can be an excellent way of building rapport with tourists. When guides exhibit patience an a cheerful, engaging demeanor, they encourage tourists to come back to the area another time.

Flexibility and the ability to improvise

While conducting a tour, the situation can change. For instance, a guide may have to adapt their approach for clients who find their usual method unpleasant. Tour leaders improvise when necessary. To ensure tourists remain interested in listening, guides may have to change their tone, wording or content. The best guides read body language to determine when an adjustment is needed. Guides may also have to adopt new ways of working and stay up-to-date on trends and technological innovations.

Story-telling skills

An excellent guide doesn't have to be a local to help tourists—but they do need to be passionate about the area. Tourists can tell the difference between a guide who is genuinely enthusiastic and one who is not. For instance, a passionate guide tells stories instead of reciting facts. Take the time to learn the history of the places on your tour so that you can tell engaging stories.


Excellent tour leaders observe time. For instance, when a guide agrees to start a trip at 9 a.m., they must arrive on time and be ready to start the tour promptly. Not only will punctuality leave a good impression on your clients, but it will also make your own day less stressful. 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

When tour guides experience a problem or face challenges, they have to fix the situation. 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.

Related: Problem-Solving Skills: Definitions and Examples

Leadership abilities

A great leader shows other people how to do things and the way to follow. 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. For example, after the tour, a tour guide can thank all clients and express appreciation for their time as a way of showing gratitude.

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