Tourist Guide

The Job and What's Involved

Tourist guides accompany visitors to sites or areas of interest. They use their knowledge and expertise to make sure that visitors get the most from their visit. Guides occasionally work with individuals but usually look after groups ranging from a few people up to around 50.

The work of a tourist guide may involve:

  • Taking visitors around cities, religious sites, historic buildings, industrial heritage sites, gardens, museums and other places of interest.
  • Providing detailed information about a site's history, purpose, inhabitants, architecture, furniture, paintings, ornaments, flora and animal life.
  • Answering questions and possibly directing visitors to other places of interest and related sites.

Tourist guides may work with British and overseas tourists. Some conduct tours in one or more foreign languages.

Guides can be based in one place, such as a cathedral, castle or historic house. Others accompany individuals or groups on day tours - on foot, in coaches, trains or ships, or perhaps on bicycles or horseback.

They may take visitors around a village or town, a city and its surrounding countryside, or a region. Some work as 'driver guides', driving small parties of tourists in cars or minibuses.

Guides who have the 'Blue Badge' qualification may carry out a variety of work, from sightseeing coach tours to tailor-made tours for special-interest groups. They may work with groups of first-time visitors to the UK, individual politicians, businesspeople, or even visiting world leaders.

Guides sometimes specialise in particular types of tours, for example, gardens or art galleries.

Working hours vary considerably. Many guides only work during the summer months. They often work long hours during the busy tourist season, sometimes 40 or more hours a week. They may have early starts and late finishes. If they work in a historic building, their hours are likely to depend on its opening times. Evening and weekend work is common.

Guides work indoors and outdoors and can be on their feet for long periods of time. Some may spend time away from home.

Starting salaries may be around £11,920 a year. Experienced guides may earn around £12,000 to £18,000.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

The number of tourist guides has remained stable during recent years, although opportunities are limited. The Institute of Tourist Guiding has around 2,000 'Green Badge' and 'Blue Badge' guide members in the UK. About 800 of them work in London. The Guild of Registered Tourist Guides represents around 1,900 guides across the UK. There are also some guides who do not belong to these organisations. Volunteer guides are numerous.

A large number of guides who earn money from guiding are self-employed. Some visitor attractions and historic properties, such as those run by The National Trust, employ guides, particularly during the summer.

Guides can advertise their services through the Institute of Tourist Guiding and other guide organisations. They may also find work through guide booking agencies.

Education and Training

There are no set entry requirements. GCSE's (A*-C) and A levels are useful, and some guides have a degree. It helps to have studied history or to have other specialist knowledge. Guides need a good knowledge of the subject area to be covered.

Fluency in at least one foreign language can be a great advantage. Any foreign language spoken by visiting tourists is useful, but the greatest demand is for German, Italian, French and Spanish. A high level of language ability may be required. Many guides working in a foreign language are native speakers who now live in the UK.

Although not essential, it can be helpful to have a tourism-related qualification before training as a guide. Examples include:

  • BTEC Level 2 Certificate in preparation for tourist guiding.
  • NVQ Level 2 or 3 in travel and tourism services, which can include guiding as a specialisation.

The Diploma in travel and tourism may be relevant for this area of work.

For many, tourist guiding is a second career. People with a wide variety of backgrounds become guides, and experience of working with people is especially useful. Tourist guiding is often combined with another occupation. For example, teachers and lecturers can work as tourist guides during holiday periods, and 'resting' actors sometimes train as tourist guides.

The Institute of Tourist Guiding offers qualifications at three levels and accredits courses that are run by colleges and training providers.

The three levels of qualifications include:

Level 2 - covering commentary or presentation on one fixed route, which could be in a gallery, cathedral or stately home, or perhaps an open-top bus.

Level 3 - the 'Green Badge' - introducing and training guides to work in two contrasting environments, such as on a walk and at a historic site, often within a town or city.

Level 4 - the 'Blue Badge', for guides who can work in a range of environments, such as on a site, walk, or moving vehicle. It also covers working in a wider geographical area or region, along with tour planning and management skills. Many tourist guides train for the 'Blue Badge' qualification, which is essential to work in certain places, such as Windsor Castle or Westminster Abbey.

Courses are usually part time, with attendance during the evenings and at weekends. Those attending must pay their own course fees.

Apart from the London Blue Badge course, few courses are available on a regular basis. Courses outside London usually take place when there is sufficient local demand. The Institute of Tourist Guiding has a waiting list of people who are interested in training in their local area.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

Once in employment, guides may study for Institute of Tourist Guiding qualifications unless they already have them. Owners of sites and visitor attractions may provide their own training for in-house guides.

It is important that guides keep their knowledge and skills up to date. Institute of Tourist Guiding members, for example, can follow a continuing professional development (CPD) scheme. It includes activities such as personal research, taking courses and attending conferences and exhibitions.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

A tourist guide should:

  • Have a clear voice.
  • Be confident when speaking to groups of people.
  • Be enthusiastic and knowledgeable about their subject.
  • Be able to absorb and remember large amounts of information.
  • Have patience.
  • Be able to keep track of people in a group.
  • Be flexible and able to cope with emergencies or unexpected incidents.
  • Have stamina.
  • Provide a high level of customer service.
  • Be fluent in another language or languages, if working with non-English speaking tourists.

Your Long Term Prospects

Some experienced guides work as guide trainers. It may be possible to work for a tour operator as a tour manager.

Guides may also enter other areas of travel and tourism, such as travel agency or tourist information centre work.

Get Further Information

Association of Professional Tourist Guides,
128 Theobald's Road, London WC1X 8TN
Tel: 020 7611 2545

The Guild of Registered Tourist Guides,
The Guild House, 52d Borough High Street,
London SE1 1XN
Tel: 020 7403 1115

Institute of Tourist Guiding, Coppergate House,
16 Brune Street, Poplar, London E1 7NJ
Tel: 020 7953 8397

Institute of Travel and Tourism, PO Box 217,
Ware, Hertfordshire SG12 8WY
Tel: 0844 499 5653

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

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