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Tour Guide: Job Description & Career Info

Learn about the education and preparation needed to become a tour guide. Get a quick view of the requirements as well as details about training, job duties and licensure to find out if this is the career for you.

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Essential Information

Tour guides lead groups of visitors through points of historical, cultural or regional interest. They provide in-depth knowledge about destinations frequented by tourists, vacationers and students. Tour guides are generally trained on-the-job, but some cities also require that tour guides obtain municipal or state licensure.

Required Education High school diploma or equivalent
Other Requirements License (depending on locality)
Projected Job Growth (2012-2022)* 8%
Median Salary (2013)* $23,770 annually

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Job Description of a Tour Guide

Tour guides work for tour and travel guide companies, cruise lines, visitors' bureaus and hotels as seasonal workers, independent contractors or full-time employees. They may lead walking tours, driving tours or cruises through popular sites, national parks, historic neighborhoods, museums or other regional points of interest. Tour guides must be able to retain historical facts, dates and anecdotes, and then relay that information to visitors in an entertaining, informative way.

Educational Requirements for a Tour Guide

Tour guides have typically obtained high-school diplomas or the equivalent. Many also receive on-the-job training from employers and some complete certificate programs provided by vocational schools. Some cities, including Washington D.C. and New York City, require licensure for all tour guides. Applicants generally have to pass a written exam covering factual knowledge of specific locations and city history. Some cities also require that applicants complete a background check to become licensed.

Tour Guide Career Information

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment for tour guides and escorts was expected to grow 8% between 2012 and 2022, which works out to be about be roughly 3,400 new jobs. The BLS also reported that the median annual salary of tour guides and escorts was $23,770 in 2013. However, wages in this occupation may vary; for example, in 2013, the highest-paid 10% of tour guides and escorts earned over $37,500 annually, while the lowest-paid 10% made $17,110 per year or less, according to the BLS. In the same year, the states of California, Florida, New York, Hawaii and Pennsylvania employed the highest number of tour guides and escorts.

Tour guides working in certain areas may be able to increase job opportunities by joining regional, national and international guide associations, such as the Guides Association of New York City (GANYC). This association offers many meetings and events for its members, which often help to link them with potential clients.

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