Tour guides need strong interpersonal skills and the ability communicate information clearly. The job also requires an orientation to customer service and leadership skills to meet tourists' expectations and make tours run smoothly. A love of learning is an asset because tour guides must stay current with new information about their area of expertise. Museums and nature attractions are among the venues that employ tour guides.
A tour guide plans tours and leads visitors through points of interest while providing useful and interesting information. Many guides take their guests on bus tours, walking tours or a combination of both. However, some guides accompany the group on public transportation, such as a train or park shuttle, while others take them backpacking, cycling or even white-water rafting. Some jobs require being away from home for days or weeks at a time. Guides must solve everyday problems, such as transportation snafus, and take charge in emergencies. The duties of tour guides span the roles of educator, host and escort.
The tour guide in a historical venue needs specialized knowledge of the subject, whether it is a building, an art collection or a person of interest. A museum docent must be able to relate pertinent facts about the displays. For example, in a museum that was once home to a famous person, she would explain events in the person's life and their interrelationship with historic events. She would also need knowledge about architecture and the decorative arts to discuss the building and its furnishings.
Natural attractions are major employers of tour guides across the globe. Because this is a specialized interest, guides typically need extensive knowledge of the physical geology of the area and its life forms. For example, guides who lead hikers, white-water rafters and backpackers on tours of the Grand Canyon must be expert in ecology, photography, history and archaeology. Some of these specialized tours require sports abilities and a high level of physical fitness. In the Grand Canyon, some tours last up to 21 days.
The academic background required for tour guide varies with the particular job. A degree is not always necessary, but college training in history, biology, archaeology or art may help you stand out among other applicants. Tourism training schools also offer credentials for tour guides, and community colleges offer certificates and associate degrees in travel and related majors. In addition, some localities provide training or certification for their tour guides. For example, Philadelphia certifies guides who can pass a written examination based on its Tour Guides Handbook.
Tour Guide Pay
Bureau of Labor Statistics data reveal that median pay for tour guides was $17.93 per hour as of 2013. The lowest-earning 10 percent earned $9.43 per hour or less, while the top-earning 10 percent received $28.23 per hour of more. The states with the most positions were California, Florida and New York, while Nevada, Iowa, Washington and Pennsylvania offered the top pay. The metropolitan locations with the highest concentration of travel guide jobs were the greater Los Angeles area, the greater San Francisco area and the Minneapolis-St. Paul region.