Tour Guide: Job Description & Career Info

Jul 11, 2019

If you're interested in a job that allows you to interact with people while working closely with areas of cultural or historical importance, consider a tour guide career. In this article, you'll learn what exactly a tour guide does and how to become one.

Tour Guide Job Description

A tour guide escorts groups or individuals through an area of interest, providing educational details along a planned route. Sometimes a tour guide might lead tourists through a structured exploration of a building or region or act out a guided story as a character in costume. Other tour guides might operate a bus or a boat, delivering information while escorting guests from one location to another.

Tour guides can be found working for tour operators, museums and historical areas, parks, cruise ships, resorts, and regional/city organizations. Many tour guides also work on a freelance basis. These jobs may be full-time, part-time, or seasonal.

Tour guide duties generally include:

  • Conducting guided tours of the premises, exhibit or area
  • Communicating facts and anecdotes, as well as important directions
  • Memorizing and reciting tour scripts or stories
  • Fielding guest questions
  • Monitoring guest safety
  • Handling customer service interactions, such as payments or gift store transactions

Tour Guide Career Fast Facts

Mean Annual Wage (2018)* $29,630 (tour and travel guides)
Job Growth Outlook (2016-26)* 10% (tour guides and escorts)
Required Education High school diploma
Required Skills Communication and customer service skills, physical stamina and energy, flexibility, responsibility, knowledge of the tour subject

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

How to Become a Tour Guide

Before becoming a tour guide, it's important to know that these jobs can be competitive and involve hard work, irregular hours, and unpredictable situations. With that in mind, it might be best to begin by considering a position that best aligns with your ideal working conditions, as well as your interests. For example, would you prefer working for a tour operator at a resort, or guiding guests through a history museum? The qualifications you need can vary wildly from job to job, but researching the jobs or prospective employers that appeal to you can help you plan your own route to a career in the field.

If the position you seek is seasonal, learn about when the demand for the job is highest and keep an eye on when your companies of interest begin the hiring process. You will also want to make sure that you can meet all licensing, certification, and skill requirements for the job, as well as any visa or travel requirements if you are considering international tour guide jobs.

Tour Guide Requirements

Most tour guide jobs involve physical activity, with a great deal of time spent walking or standing. Other jobs may require additional skills, such as driving (including coach/bus driving, which requires a CDL), boating, or hiking. Good interpersonal communication skills are also essential, including the ability to address a large group of people comfortably and confidently.

If you wish to conduct your own tours in a specific municipality, such as New York City or Washington D.C., be aware of any additional tour guide qualifications and license requirements. Earning a city tour guide license typically involves passing an exam that tests one's knowledge of the area.

Tour Guide Education and Training

For most tour guide jobs, a high school diploma is a minimum qualification, though some positions may require an undergraduate or even a graduate degree. For example, if you're interested in a museum tour guide job, it may be preferable to have a college degree in a subject related to the museum. In general, it may also help to seek professional certification or even a bachelor's degree in tourism and travel, particularly if you are interested in managing your own tour company in the future.

While some positions include training on the job, participating in a dedicated tour guide course is also a good idea if you are serious about your career. There are training schools that provide domestic and international tour guide education, like the International Tour Management Institute (ITMI) or the International Guide Academy (IGA). In addition to comprehensive tour guide training, these schools can offer job placement assistance, plus opportunities to network with tour operators and other professionals.

Those who wish to conduct nature or adventure tours can learn useful wilderness skills in a recreational studies degree or certification program. Students of these programs have the opportunity to learn about backpacking, mountaineering, boating, and survival in a variety of environments. As adventure touring can be unpredictable or even dangerous, mastery of such skills could be essential for the job.

You can also receive job training while seeking the credentials to operate in a specific location. Certain associations, such as the Arizona Guides Association or the Utah Tour Guide Association, also serve as tour guide schools and provide relevant training in the basics of conducting tours specific to those areas, as well as the knowledge of the location required to pass a credentialing exam.

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