The Gig: Tour Guide
The Work: Dream about living in the places where you vacation? Getting paid to hang out in the sun? For many, working as a tour guide seems like the perfect job. It allows you to travel and meet new people. Seem like the ultimate slacker dream? Here’s the low down from two veteran guides.
Anna Svensson from Horn, Sweden, worked as a tour bus guide in Sweden and Germany for a year before joining Swedish tour operator Apollo in 1998. With Apollo, she has spent two seasons on Kos, Greece, one season in Phuket, Thailand, and a season in Playa del Carmen, Mexico. This coming summer will be her second on the Greek island Crete with Apollo. She followed her parents’ lead into the profession. “My family has always worked in the tourism industry, so my interest in the job was piqued at a very early age,” Anna says. “And then, well, things just kind of happened...”
Nicole Samuel, an independent tour guide in Israel for the last 10 years, took a different route into the field of tour guiding. For family reasons it wasn’t convenient for her to work for just one tour company, so she went out on her own. Since guiding work is often seasonal, many companies all over the world hire independent contractors. As Nicole points out, it can be a challenge to drum up work, but the flexibility more than makes up for it. “I’d rather have time off from time to time and enjoy my work,” she writes.
Training/Education/Requirements: Guiding does require more than just hanging out in the sun. Guides must be friendly and good with people, organized enough to keep large groups of people on schedule, quick on their feet and ready for the inevitable snafus that arise, and able to talk — and keep talking — in front of strangers.
While training and licensing requirements vary throughout the tourism industry, everyone agrees that some preparation for these duties is necessary. Anna was trained when she joined Apollo: “Apollo’s training program costs 9000 SEK [around $800 US] for three weeks. The price includes airfare, accommodation and some meals, course materials, travel insurance and excursions. The training program is always on location, in places like Egypt, Spain or Greece.” For Anna, there is no certificate or license required to work as a tour guide, and her tour company takes care of work permits and visas. Nicole, on the other hand, must acquire a license to guide in Israel. She took a government course in order to get licensed in her home country. The course took about a year and a half to complete — three evenings a week and about 75 trips around the country. In order to renew her license, she goes on one additional training trip each year.
Anna adds that before training, “it’s really good to have taken some basic tourism courses and to have worked a couple of years in a service-related industry. We value work experience very highly.” And obviously it helps to speak a variety of languages.
So what are the basic qualities one should have to become a good tour guide? “Friendly, flexible and with a high [tolerance for] stress,” Anna laughs. Not to mention a love of travel.
a few tips: is guiding for you?
by Susannah Guttowsky
“Guided tours” doesn’t have to mean name tags and unwieldy masses, but it does generally entail assisting the less-than-intrepid and doing your best to manage their individual, as well as collective, comfort and enjoyment. That can include dealing — in the most pleasant fashion — with sunburns, cranky people, lost luggage and sustained bouts of nausea.
Guiding is all about human interaction. If that sounds fun to you, read on for my tried-and-true tips for pulling off memorable travel adventures.
- You can determine who your trips draw by how you advertise and what activities you offer. If you throw in mountain biking or a sherpa-less trek, you’ll surface the more adventurous. (A health and fitness quiz is a must if you plan physical activities.)
- Know your stuff — this doesn’t have to mean that you know everything about the destination… as long as your group doesn’t expect you to. I’ve taken some very successful trips touted as “explorative” where I’ve done a little background research and the idea was discovery as a group.
- Limit your group size to reduce the impact on the environment — and others around you. A smaller size also will make the group more manageable for you, allowing for more one-on-one interactions.
- Set ground rules that introduce your group to expectations for their behavior and the trip before a “situation” can arise. Group travelers need to be the best version of themselves.
- Common adventurer philosophy — we’re all in this together and an individual’s enjoyment is closely linked to the enjoyment of the group.
- Encourage the group travelers to bend and sway with the unexpected — bad weather, missed trains — make this part of the adventure.
- Slot free time for individuals to explore on their own — it’s a great way to release the inevitable stress that comes with group travel. Reminder: you cannot cater to everyone’s tastes.
- Don’t forget that no matter how many times you’ve been there, with the right group, each trip’s a new adventure, and with the wrong group… well, it’ll be over soon.
Pay range: Salaries vary between countries, so it’s hard to give a general pay range. For Anna, “the salaries are not as high abroad as they are in Sweden, since the cost of living is usually cheaper abroad. Then the salary goes up a bit for every season worked.”
Nicole points out that for independent tour guides, how much work you get depends on how well known and respected you are within the industry. Throughout the industry, experienced guides who do good work will get hired again and again, and can charge more for their expertise.
Downside: Of course, even a dream job like this has its downside. For Anna, who has worked in countries far from Sweden, “sometimes it’s hard to be away from home.” But even at home, Nicole points out that “it is a very demanding job and some people expect you to know everything.”
Best part: For these two women, the rewards definitely outweigh the challenges. Both Anna and Nicole point to the variety their jobs offer. When asked about her favorite aspects of the job, Nicole replies, “I feel free…I feel that this work opens my mind.” Anna adds to the list of plusses: “The fact that each day is different. You never get tired of the job because of that. And then it doesn’t hurt to hang out in sunny paradises all the time…”
jobs for the restless
“A good guide needs a lot of patience, understanding, warmth, and knowledge. It’s a demanding job.” — Nicole Samuel, tour guide in Israel