So you want to be a Tour Guide or Tour Director.
As a travel professional involved in the tour business I am often asked about a career as Tour Director or Tour Guide.
The first question is often about what is the difference between the two, so let’s start there.
Tour Guide: Tour guides offer specific narration in a destination and are often called step-on guides. When a tour group arrives at their planned destination is an advantage in having a local guide join the group for the day or even a few hours. Living and working in the destination provides for a more intimate connection and these guides can add a personal glimpse of the community into their commentary.
The Tour guide has the pleasure of meeting new people from all over the world, the opportunity to share their destinations story and come home every night or every few nights depending on the area they cover. This has strategic advantages to those that have family or community obligations.
Tour Director: Tour Directors are responsible for the on the road logistics, confirmations, planning, unexpected delays, damage control, and group dynamics. They travel with the group for the entire tour and can be away from home for weeks or months depending on the tour. During a tour they are available 24/7.
For those that are tired of sitting in a small office, commuting daily to and from work or contemplating early retirement, a job that would provide a built in holiday might seem like the perfect answer. However, that is where the first misconception lies. Tour directing is not a holiday. Yes, they are travelling with the group but while you are eating lunch, they are gobbling a quick bite while confirming the next stop, dealing with a guest who has broken their glasses or left medication in the last hotel. In the evening, when you are retiring for the day, your tour director is filling out a daily report of the day’s activities, listing recommendations for changes and confirming the next day’s routing with the driver, etc.
Regardless of whether you decide tour guiding is your forte or you would prefer to be a tour director you will need to be a people person. The travel business is all about creating experiences for the passengers in your care who may have very different expectations about what the tour should deliver. Your job will require patience, flexibility, compassion and a sense of humour.
As with any job both these positions require a certain set of skills in order to be successful.
- Speaking in front of an audience: Tour groups very in size from 10 to 50 people and speaking comfortably in front of a group is extremely important. Capturing your audience’s attention, being enthusiastic and engaging are key elements to being successful.
- Problem solving: You will need to be able to think on your feet, when travelling the unexpected can and does often occur. When someone gets sick, the bus breaks down or weather forces you to make a change in the itinerary you need to be able to make decisions quickly.
- Organizational skills: Remember you are not only responsible for your guests but also the meals, attractions, accommodations and transportation. Being out on the road whether travelling domestically or internationally you will need to constantly be checking with your suppliers to make sure everything is on track as well as keeping guests happy.
- Leadership: Leading a group of people who may have a wide range of ages, diverse backgrounds, personalities and expectations provides a unique set of challenges. As the group leader you need to encourage camaraderie within the group but also be aware of the negative nellies and mitigate their effect on the group as a whole.
- Physical & mental ability: Guiding a tour group can be exhausting. There is a lot of pressure… you are in charge of your guests and their holiday. They have put their faith into the hands of the company you represent but you are the one on the front line to make it all happen.
There is never a dull moment when guiding whether it be step-on guiding or as a tour director in a foreign country, but if you are right for the job the rewards will be many. Constantly moving from place to place, meeting new, and interesting people among your travellers and along the way provides greater insight into the world in which we live. I have had the privilege to act as both a step-on guide in my local community as well as take a tour over-seas. I loved both jobs! I cherish living in British Columbia and the Okanagan Valley so telling stories about the community I live in, its history and introducing visitors to wineries, orchards and Ogopogo was fun and exciting. Wells Gray Tours, like many operators when travelling, uses local guides wherever if we go to ensure the groups experience is authentic and includes local stories and experiences. Guiding an international group is different as your role is more one of logistics and leadership. However, the bottom line in both cases is that it is the tour guide or tour director that is ultimately the person who can create a memorable experience through their ability to convey interesting and entertaining commentary.
Just like any job that is done well the rewards will far outweigh the challenges.
Written by: Joan Niemeier