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More than just an umbrella and a script, becoming a tour guide is one of the most rewarding jobs for retired individuals, offering the chance to meet new people, entertain, and impart knowledge to an eager audience.

Around the UK and the world at large, many retirees find work as a tour guide an enriching experience that is a pleasure in itself.

With many tourists happy to pay for guided tours, however, there are financial benefits to the arrangement too.

Getting started as a tour guide is relatively easy, but there are a few things you need to know first.

Here, we’ll explain how to become a tour guide, the benefits, skills, and pay you can expect, as well as some tips on finding your feet, including good locations, some courses, and job scouting.

What Does a Tour Guide Do?

Tour guides show visitors around places of interest, including cities, museums, historic buildings, and galleries. Tour guides will take groups on excursions around these locations and impart their expert knowledge as they do so. This knowledge can be on almost anything but the most popular tours tend to be historical, natural, cultural, religious or even culinary in nature.

While film and TV would have you believe tour guides are disinterested script-readers ushering a crowd of people through a city or museum, the reality is usually far different.

A good tour guide will turn an average trip, visit, or holiday into something truly special, bringing a place to life.

The common duties of a tour guide include:

People are looking for a variety of different tour guides. Knowing a certain aspect of a place inside-out is valuable knowledge that many people are happy to pay to have shared. While an intimate knowledge of a city's history is a guaranteed hit, there are plenty of people who would like to have the natural geology of the local landscape explained to them, or dive deeper into the exhibits in a museum. With modern tourists looking for a variety of experiences, there are plenty of gaps in the market for all sorts of tours.

Your job as a tour guide, therefore, involves leaving people happy that they now know a place a little better than before. This can be achieved in a number of ways and is dependent on your personality. Some guides will rely on humour, charm, and delivery, while others will win over customers with the finer details, professionalism, and expertise. The most popular tour guides tend to combine a bit of both.

Types of Guide

The most common type of tour guides are:

City Guide

This type of guide will typically walk, cycle, or bus their way around a city with a group taking in the various significant landmarks and points of interest. This sort of guide will usually have intimate, first-hand knowledge of the city they are giving tours on and know a thing or two the guidebooks may not.

Historical Guide

History tours are always a popular choice with a lot of visitors looking to the past to understand the present. These tour guides will take groups around areas of historical importance such as the site of a battle, the ruins of a Roman villa, medieval Cathedrals, stately homes, and even neolithic groundworks. Visitors look to history tour guides to bring vibrancy and liveliness to these places, helping understand the larger context as well as the interesting tidbits.

Museum/Curation Guide

Many find their experience of a museum or art gallery heightened when they are taken around by a tour guide. Giving background information on the history of an artifact or art piece, tour guides will often curate the finest these locations have to offer, fielding questions, and allowing a better appreciation.

Nature Guide

Nature guides tend to take groups through natural landscapes, explaining the various aspects of the environment. This includes local wildlife, geology, and the prehistoric life that inhabited the area. For a lot of retirees, this sort of tour can prove a great way to keep active, with short and long nature hikes popular amongst tourists.

Other

You can, however, become a tour guide on almost any subject, especially if you choose to go down the freelance route. Tour guides have found success imparting knowledge on all manner of things including, afternoon tea tours, paranormal tours, crime and murder tours, pub tours, and even cemetery tours if notables are buried within your city. There is room for creativity and expression when it comes to giving tours.

Skills You Will Need

Success as a freelance or an employed tour guide requires having a certain skill set. These skills are:

Timekeeping

Ensuring you are where you need to be at all times is one of the trickiest parts of being a tour guide. With some guides fitting multiple tours into a day, starting and finishing on time is vital. This of course needs to be balanced with giving patrons a valuable experience that doesn't feel rushed. Good timekeeping, therefore, means you can give your group the best value for money and your undivided attention.

Communication

It's no good having expert knowledge on a subject if you can't express it. Good communication, then, is a necessary skill in becoming a tour guide. Speaking clearly, loudly, and in an effective manner works best, knowing just the right amount of information to convey without getting bogged down in uninteresting details. However, these skills can be learned over time through practice and engagement.

Expert Knowledge

In-depth knowledge of the tour's subject is essential. People don't want to feel like they're just having an encyclopedia read to them. Instead, they want the personal, engaging, and intimate knowledge of an expert. For employed tour guide work, this knowledge can be acquired and studied, improving your understanding over time, with organisations often giving training and courses. For freelance work, it is best to stick with subjects you already have a deep knowledge of.

Charm

Some of the best tour guides not only leave their groups feeling more knowledgeable, but also happier. Winning over your group can be done in a variety of ways. Some guides choose to express their passion for a subject, exciting their group, while others choose a dry-wit that keeps their patrons chuckling.

Authority

When taking a group on a tour, they will look to you to lead them. This involves adopting a certain air of authority for the duration of the tour. Not everyone is comfortable doing this but it is necessary for good timekeeping and the safety of your group. On a city tour, for example, shuffling your group out of the way of passers-by and away from nearby traffic will reassure your group you are a professional and have their best interest in mind.

Benefits of Becoming a Guide in Retirement

Most find that becoming a tour guide is a mutually beneficial arrangement, especially for those in retirement. While groups get to experience a deeper understanding of a place, you as the tour guide get to talk about a subject you are interested in, expand your knowledge, and interact with like-minded people regularly.

Being a tour guide means being paid to talk about something you are passionate about to a captive audience. This is a big responsibility, of course, but is massively rewarding. While loneliness and isolation are often problems for some in retirement, tour guide work is a terrific outlet to interact with people and enrich their experience of a place, often leaving a lasting impression on patrons.

The work is flexible too, especially if you choose to freelance. While maintaining a schedule does help keep bookings flowing, the work is very forgiving when it comes to taking time off. With most tours taking just one or two hours, too, tour guide work can often fit around other commitments such as family duties.

Tour Guide Salary/Pay

Tour guides can expect to make anywhere between £18,000 to £30,000 a year depending on their level of experience, location, and amount of hours worked

Tour guides working in popular tourist cities such as London, York, Edinburgh, Liverpool, and Manchester can expect to earn more than guides working in quieter locations.

Earnings from being a tour guide will not be consistent, with more money earned in certain seasons than others. This is typically the summer months when people go on holiday, take day trips, and do more travelling. Good financial planning is therefore necessary.

Location

You can run a tour almost anywhere, but tourist hotspots will prove to be the most lucrative.

UK

The UK's rich and diverse history as an island makes almost any town or city suitable for tour guiding. With plenty of stately homes, prehistoric sites and natural landscapes, those who live in more rural areas should also not have any trouble finding tour guide work.

Being a tour guide in the UK does not require a license but tourists do tend to look for some form of accreditation.

London

As one of the world's most visited places, London is an ideal place to become a tour guide, offering plenty of opportunities to those in retirement.

To guide in London you don't need a license. However, in order to earn the trust of customers, you will need a City of London Guides Badge and ideally at least a Green Badge from the Institute of Tourist Guiding. A Blue Badge is recommended, however, as it is recognised internationally as a mark of quality and puts tourists at ease knowing they are in the hands of a professional.

These qualifications ensure you are capable of conveying historical and cultural information accurately and in a manner that represents London best.

Aside from the big landmarks and tourist favourites, London also presents the opportunity to host tours on even the most niche subjects. These include Harry Potter tours, Jack the Ripper murder trails, legal tours, and even a tour of the Capital’s public toilets.

Europe

The many major towns and cities of Europe are equally suitable for those interested in becoming a tour guide. For those who have chosen to retire abroad, this presents a great chance to impart your local knowledge with tourists looking to get to know a place better.

Like London, capitals and major cities such as Barcelona, Berlin, Rome and Paris will always have high demand for tour guides. Each country has their own laws regarding tour guiding, with some requiring a license, such as France.

A good place to start is the European Federation of Tourist Guiding Association which provides training and advice on to how to become a tour guide in Europe.

International

Internationally, becoming a tour guide is simply a matter of researching your country of interest, including its rules and regulations.

India, for example, requires a regional license to be held to tour guide following a training course and is issued by the Indian Government's Tourism Office. This license is only valid for 3 years before needing to be renewed.

Other countries, such as Japan, require no license or accreditation, meaning you can get started right away providing you have enough experience and knowledge.

Tour Guide Courses and Accreditations

There are no legal requirements to becoming a tour guide in the UK. You can simply set up a website or social media page, advertise locally, and start as soon as your first bookings come in.

This is often the route taken by freelancers looking to get started quickly, confident their area of expertise will attract groups. If you have proven experience in your tour subject, this will go a long way to instilling confidence in potential patrons.

While there is no need for a formal qualification, there are plenty of courses up and down the UK that offer training on how to become a tour guide. These courses will instruct you on how to handle large groups, what level of knowledge is necessary, delivering information concisely, and setting up your business or getting a job.

For those who want to acquire this form of accreditation, the Institute of Tourist Guiding is the go-to body, providing three levels of certification:

White Badge

Paid or voluntary guiding around attractions such as stately homes and cathedrals, and even commercial sites.

Green Badge

The green badge accreditation is recommended for city and town tour guides, delivering walking tours on a full or part-time basis.

Blue Badge

The most well-regarded tour guide accreditation, the blue badge is recommended for tour guides in busy cities and sites of interest, especially those that require taking groups on various forms of transport.

In order to become a blue badge accredited tour guide, you need to pass a course approved by the Institute of Tourist Guiding or the Scottish Tourist Guide Association. This typically involves up to two years of training and self-study followed by a series of comprehensive exams. These exams involve both written and practical exercises.

The badges can be obtained from various organisations in collaboration with the Institute of Tourist Guiding. The British Guild of Tourist Guiding has a list of course providers here.

Finding Tour Guide Jobs

There are two ways to get work as a tour guide:

Freelance

Freelance tour guides will handle the advertising, networking, and business side of things themselves. Getting bookings is a matter of having a website with a form, taking private messages on Facebook and other social media platforms, and receiving phone calls. It will be up to you to ensure your tour is being found, whether this is through word of mouth, online advertisements, being featured in local brochures and magazines, or interacting with potential visitors online.

Employed

Employed tour guides will tend not to have to deal with the day-to-day running of the business and are usually paid a regular wage, regardless of how many bookings are taken. The upshot of this is potentially less stress and admin. The downside is you may earn less than your freelance counterparts, and you might not be able to be as flexible.

Finding employed work as a tour guide can be achieved through:

Summary

Offering flexibility, fair pay, and the opportunity to engage with people as passionate as you about a subject, being a tour guide is a great choice, especially for retirees.


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