Tour Manager

The Job and What's Involved

Tour managers accompany groups of tourists on holidays in the UK or abroad. They make sure all the arrangements run smoothly, cope with any problems, and provide geographical, historical and general sightseeing information.

Most of the work is on coach or minibus tours, which might last from a few days to over a month. In some cases the itinerary includes travel by plane, train, ferry or cruise ship.

Tour managers give a commentary during the journey. This involves explaining about places of interest, history, local life and culture. It is important to capture listeners' interest by recounting facts and stories in an interesting and humorous way. Some tour managers with specialist knowledge lead music, art or 'battlefield' tours.

Tour administration is an important part of the job. Tour managers join the party at the start of their journey, welcome them, check their tickets, and explain details of travel arrangements. Duties vary depending on the type of tour, but usually include:

  • Checking hotel accommodation.
  • Making arrangements for meals, including any special needs such as vegetarian or health-related diets.
  • Checking and confirming arrangements for visits to attractions, such as museums or events.
  • Making sure the party keeps to the itinerary and is on time to catch ferries or planes.
  • Liaising with coach drivers.
  • Helping with problems such as lost luggage, illness, theft or unsatisfactory accommodation.
  • Helping passengers to transfer from one mode of transport to another, and making sure their luggage is transferred too.
  • Selling optional excursions.
  • Making sure clients' holidays are as trouble-free as possible.

Tour managers deal with a range of people including hotel, restaurant, coach, airline and ferry staff, customs and immigration officers, and staff at visitor attractions.

Most tour managers working overseas use foreign languages in the course of their work.

Managers keep written or computer records of the tour details, including any incidents that occur. They also keep accounts for money received and paid out.

Tour managers are responsible for their party from the time the tour begins until it has ended. Hours are long and irregular.

They work both indoors and outdoors. They spend much of their time on a coach or other form of transport.

It is possible to work all year round, particularly in mainland Europe and Asia, but most tour managers work on a seasonal basis, generally during the summer. They may have an alternative source of income during the winter months.

Tour managers could be away from home for days or weeks at a time.

Starting salaries may be between £10,000 and £13,000 a year for tour managers able to find work all year round. Part of tour managers' earnings may be commission-based. Free board and lodgings during the tour are usually provided. Tour operators may pay for flights to meet and leave tours.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

In most cases, tour managers work for tour operators, which can range from large international companies to small firms offering special interest trips. In some instances they work for coach companies involved in domestic and/or overseas tourism.

There are relatively small numbers of people working in this field, and entry is highly competitive. Often, tour managers are people who have started out in sales roles in the travel industry. Experienced tourist guides can also become tour managers.

Jobs are sometimes advertised on the International Association of Tour Managers' (IATM) website, tour operators' websites, and in publications such as Travel Trade Gazette and Travel Weekly. However, keen competition means that not all vacancies are advertised, and speculative applications to tour operators may be more appropriate.

Education and Training

There are no formal entry requirements. Most tour operators are more interested in strong people skills than in formal qualifications, although they may look for GCSE's/S grades (A-C/1-3).

Entry is possible at any age, but is highly unlikely for school leavers. It is more usual to start by gaining experience in other roles in travel and tourism, or in another occupation that involves dealing with people.

For jobs abroad, knowledge of one or more foreign language is important. French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese and Greek are particularly useful for mainland Europe but almost any language can be advantageous. Experience of living and working abroad is an asset, as is experience of independent travel.

Some tour operators prefer applicants with a degree, especially for tours that require thorough knowledge of a subject, such as history of art, music or history. However, in some cases, a long-standing interest in the subject or relevant experience may be enough.

Entry to degree courses is with a minimum of two A levels/three H grades and five GCSE's/S grades (A-C/1-3), usually including English and maths, or the equivalent, such as the International Baccalaureate.

Other useful qualifications include:

  • NCFE Certificate for On-Tour Managers.
  • BTEC National Certificate/Diploma in Travel and Tourism.
  • City & Guilds Travel and Tourism Diploma.
  • BTEC HNC/HND in Travel and Tourism Management.
  • Foundation Degree in Travel and Tourism Management.
  • NVQ's/SVQ's Levels 2 and 3 in Travel and Tourism.
  • Scottish Group Awards and SQA Intermediate and Higher National Certificates in Travel and Tourism.

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A Few More Exams You Might Need

New tour managers usually receive a short induction course covering company policies and the main destinations used by the tour operator. They must learn about the areas and attractions visited during tours.

A Tour Manager's Certificate is issued by the International Association of Tour Managers (IATM). It is available free to active members of the association. The IATM also has an accreditation scheme - the Certificate of Tour Management Accreditation - which is only open to members currently working as tour managers.

It is important for tour managers to keep up to date with changing information about destinations, routes and so on throughout their careers.

Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

A tour manager should:

  • Have a pleasant and friendly manner.
  • Have excellent communication skills.
  • Be self-confident and outgoing, with a smart appearance.
  • Be fit and energetic.
  • Be responsible, adaptable and decisive.
  • Work well under pressure and cope with emergencies.
  • Be able to work unsupervised.
  • Be willing to work long, irregular hours.

Your Long Term Prospects

Tour managers can move into supervisory or management positions with tour operators. Some become tourist guides or move into related fields such as hotel or resort management.

Tour managers may use their experience to start their own businesses.

Get Further Information

GoSkills, Concorde House, Trinity Park,
Solihull B37 7UQ
Tel: 0121 635 5520

Institute of Travel and Tourism (ITT),
PO Box 217, Ware SG12 8WY
Tel: 0870 770 7960

International Association of
Tour Managers Limited (IATM),
397 Walworth Road, London SE17 2AW
Tel: 020 7703 9154

People 1st, Second Floor, Armstrong House,
38 Market Square, Uxbridge UB8 1LH
Tel: 01895 857000

Springboard UK Limited, 3 Denmark Street,
London WC2H 8LP
Tel: 020 7497 8654

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