Tour guides work in the travel industry, giving guided tours of a location to groups of visitors. They are experts on the history of the location and offer their tour groups interesting or enlightening information about points of interest at nature attractions, historic sites, museums, scenic locations, and other travel destinations. Guides may give walking tours, escort groups in busses, or even lead river tours in a boat. Often hired by visitors' bureaus or travel companies, tour guides are typically residents of the region in which they give tours.
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A tour guide's duties depend on their location and employer. If they are self-employed, they will usually give tours of publicly accessible travel destinations like national parks or nature attractions. Those who are employed by a visitor's bureau or corporation offer tours of cities, industrial locations, or other points of interest. The three main areas of specialization within the guiding industry are historical tour guiding, corporate tour guiding, and nature or eco-tour guiding.
Historical tour guides lead groups of visitors to national monuments, historic sites, historic districts, religious or archaeological sites, and museums. These guides are well-versed in the history of the site or monument. They offer visitors an interesting description of the location, including its history and what effect it has had on modern society. In addition, they answer visitor questions and keep the tour organized, efficient, and safe.
Corporate tour guides are employed by large companies that are usually a well-known corporation or travel destination, though non-profit organizations often require guides as well. They lead groups through factories, describing the manufacturing process or history and mission of the business. Theme parks often employ tour guides who lead visitors on tours of a museum within the park that documents the company's history of accomplishments. Guides may also work in zoos, wildlife refuges, safari parks, or animal reserves, enlightening visitors on animal behaviour and the goals of the company.
Nature tour guides lead groups to natural attractions, national parks, and other outdoor locations where wildlife and scenic locations are the focus of the tour. These guides are experts in the natural sciences and have the ability to engage visitors with their knowledge of biology, geology, and the history of the location. An increasingly popular area of the industry is eco-touring. The goal of the eco-tour guide is to lead a small group of individuals to an often protected but scenic natural area while having little or no impact on the environment. Visitors are offered insight on the environmental impact of human actions as guides attempt to foster a general appreciation of the natural habitat.
Regardless of the specialization of the tour guide, some fundamental responsibilities apply to all positions. Their primary responsibility is to make sure the tour is as safe as possible for the entire group. They will monitor the group's activities to ensure everyone complies with the site's or guide's safety regulations. In some cases, they may have to provide first-aid or emergency services to visitors. Tour guides typically plan itineraries as well. They will research thoroughly prior to giving the tour and be prepared and organized for each step of the process, from greeting visitors upon arrival to arranging transportation between locations. Guides are also required to perform clerical duties, collect fees, and in many cases, promote gift shops and sell souvenirs.
Prospective tour guides should possess a minimum of a high school diploma or equivalent certificate. Required academic backgrounds vary by company, but often a bachelor's degree in a field related to the subject of the tour is necessary. Museum tour guides, for instance, usually have a degree in history and eco-tour guides often major in conservation or environmental education. In most cases, employers provide on-the-job education that includes safety training.
Most importantly, tour guides must be experts in their area of concentration. They must be able to answer specific questions about locations, their history, amenities, and artifacts. Effective communication skills are absolutely essential for a successful career in the industry. In addition, tour guides must be highly organized, punctual, and ethical. They have exceptional time-management skills and are able to throughly research pertinent information. The ability to speak multiple languages, while not essential, is an asset for many tour guides.
Tour guides work in a variety of environments and conditions. Museum tour guides, for instance, work indoors year-round, while nature tour guides work outside and are subject to the effects of climate and weather conditions. Typically, a tour guide's work week is very structured, though they may work more or less than 40 hours. Since they work within the travel industry, many tour guides lead tours on weekends. Some guides are employed in seasonal or temporary positions, working only during the summer months when tourism is at its peak.
Tour guide salaries depend largely on experience, location, and type of employment. Successful tour guides at prime travel destinations typically earn between $30,000 and $60,000 annually. Those with little experience or in seasonal positions earn $20,000 or less. Guides who are members of tour guide associations, such as the Guides Association of New York City, typically experience enhanced guiding opportunities which offer higher wages.