What Does a Tour Guide Do? Definition, Types and Salary
Updated March 10, 2023
Working as a tour guide can be a great way to meet new people, travel, share incredible experiences and learn more about a culture or place. Becoming a guide is often an educational and rewarding experience. There are many guiding opportunities available that can suit a variety of interests and skill sets. In this article, we discuss what a tour guide does, including guide types, working conditions, necessary skills and salary expectations.
What is a tour guide?
Tour guides, or tourist guides, are members of the hospitality and travel industry who show visitors around places of interest. Tour guides may lead groups or individuals through historical sites, museums, geographic destinations and on outdoor excursions. Typically, tour guides posses relevant cultural, historical and practical knowledge they can share with tourists. Companies and organizations often hire guides to provide a worthwhile experience for guests, guides may possess exceptional knowledge and skill about their chosen destination, culture or recreational activity.
What does a tour guide do?
Tour guides provide many services, and their responsibilities depend on the type of tour guide they are. While group size, transportation method, age and trip length may differ, tour guides are typically responsible for entertaining guests, answering questions and sharing relevant information to the groups or individuals they are guiding.
Here are some common duties and responsibilities you could expect to see working as a guide:
Learning: Usually, tour guides posses substantial knowledge about a destination, time period or activity. A guide may have a personal interest in the subject, but their employer might request they complete a formal training to help them gather information that may interest or benefit tourists.
Greeting and welcoming gue**sts:** Regardless of how long the tour lasts, most guides strive to connect with their guests. They usually start with an introduction that involves welcoming everyone and announcing the beginning of the tour.
Explaining safety procedures: If a guide is leading an expedition, traveling in an unsafe area or guiding from a vehicle, they may take a moment to brief guests on any conditions they need to be aware of or the procedures they can take in the event of an emergency.
Providing materials: Some tours contain learning materials like brochures, maps and audio recordings. Others may require specialized gear or uniforms. Guides ensure everyone in the group has access to necessary supplies and may also be in charge of maintaining equipment after its use.
Responding to guest needs: For the duration of the tour, guides may be responsible for the comfort and well-being of their guests. This can mean making necessary accommodations, responding to first-aid emergencies and addressing guests' concerns. Similarly, tour guides may have to provide information on pricing, trip length and the frequency of their tours.
Guiding tourists: As the name implies, a major responsibility of working as a guide is leading groups and individuals on tours. This may require guides to have the route mapped out beforehand and for them to share interesting facts with their guests about the locations they pass along the way.
Translating: Though not always a requirement, for guides working in a foreign country, it can be helpful to know the local language. Some tour guiding jobs may require guides to be bilingual so they can explain written communication, interact with locals and communicate with a variety of customers.
Scheduling: Some tours require guides to purchase tickets, make reservations and work within time-constraints. It can be important for them to plan excursions in advance so they can expect any issues or special accommodations.
Read more: How To Become a Licensed Tourist Guide
Types of tour guides
There are many kinds of tour guides working all over the world. Here are some common tour guide types:
A historical guide leads tourists around historical landmarks and points of interest like ruins, temples, battlefields and other sites of historical importance. On these types of tours, patrons often want to learn more about the history of a particular area. Historical guides—either working as employees of the site, working as employees of a larger tour company or working independently—may have interesting facts and information about the area and events of the past that can appeal to sightseers.
Adventure guides lead guests on excursions that may be otherwise unavailable to them. In addition to knowing relevant facts and navigation information, adventure guides often posses the practical knowledge, skills and equipment patrons need to enjoy an activity or sport. Some common types of adventure guides are:
River guides: River guides, or raft guides, lead groups through river rapids and other obstacles in the water. Trips can last from a few hours to multiple weeks, and guides are often responsible for outfitting guests, setting up necessary camping accommodations and preparing meals. Many guides attend training to ensure their skills are proficient enough to provide for the safety of guests.
Climbing guides: Like raft guides, climbing guides often provide their guests with equipment to climb safely in an area. Climbing guides may lead guests on bouldering, sport climbing or multi-pitch adventures where they might teach techniques, belay climbers and provide instruction.
Hiking guides: Hiking guides may lead hikers or backpackers on short day trips or on longer mountaineering expeditions. For some hikes, peaks are inaccessible without a professional chaperone or guide. Hiking guides may also help tourists navigate difficult terrain like glaciers, mountain passes and mountain peaks.
Snowmobile guides: Snowmobile guides may assist groups or guests by providing snowmobiles and access to snowmobiling areas.
Trail riding guides: Horseback riding is a popular activity for tourists visiting a new area and locals looking for a scenic adventure. Trail riding guides often lead horses and riders along routes and share interesting facts about the wildlife, geography and plants. Guides may also be responsible for caring for the horses and maintaining their enclosures before and after tours.
Fishing guides: Fishing guides may lead outings to help tourists access difficult-to-reach fishing destinations. Fishing guides may lead tours in oceans, rivers, creeks, lakes or ice. For excursions like fly-fishing or deep-sea fishing, guides may assist guests with instructional help, supplies and fish cleaning.
ATV guides: An all-terrain vehicle (ATV) guide may lead or drive guests along tracks and roads in jeeps, four wheelers or side-by-side ATVs. Like all adventure guides, two chief priorities of an ATV guide are ensuring both the safety and enjoyment of their guests.
Related: 15 Jobs in Adventurous Career Fields
Museum guides work to offer insightful information to museum guests by giving them background knowledge on exhibits, works of art and artifacts. Museums may employ museum guides to chaperone guests and to make the museum experience more interactive and engaging.
Nature guides usually guide tourists through outdoor areas of interest. Typically less extreme than adventure guides, nature guides might lead walking or hiking tours through wilderness areas focusing on subjects like geology, ornithology and ecology.
A city guide may give tours of a city on bikes, buses, rickshaws, in cars or on foot. City guides may point out historical or cultural sites, restaurants or bars or architectural points of interest. Usually, a city guide is very familiar with the city where they work, so they're able to share worthwhile information with tourists.
A park guide may work in assisting guests in theme parks, zoos, state parks and national parks. A park guide may lead groups within the park, pointing out noteworthy attractions and providing information for park guests.
Sometimes, individuals may choose to offer their guiding services independently rather than representing a business, museum or location. Local guides who know a city well may guide tourists through points of interest using their personal boat, car or other vehicle. Freelance guides might not have access to the insurance provisions of a larger company or established employer, so it's helpful to be mindful of local laws and other legal requirements as a freelance guide.
Tour guides can expect to spend a lot of their day moving, speaking, interacting with guests and researching their position to improve their knowledge. Most guide jobs require high levels of physical stamina and energy. Many guides choose to work in this industry out of a passion for their area of expertise and a desire to share that passion with others. For this reason, working as a tour guide can be very rewarding.
The skills required for a certain position vary depending on the type of tour guide you are. However, most tour guide employers seek candidates who have the following abilities:
Significant, factual expertise
Tour guide salary
As a crucial part of the tourism sector, tour guides are often in high demand in popular tourist destinations. On average, tour guides in the United States make $28,312 per year, though wages vary by state and specific tour guide type.
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