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Tips on How to Be An Effective Tour Guide

Being A Jack of All Trades

Being a successful tour guide means being able to anticipate problems before they happen. A good knowledge of the itinerary, history, geography, potential problems and weather is part of the job. In some cases, a tour guide should have a snack prepared to share with guests if they are going on an outdoor hike away from amenities. The tour guide is like a friend, a parent, an authority, a diplomat, and a nurse in case someone falls, gets a scratch, or worse. The tour guide is usually held responsible for just about any mishap that occurs during the trip. He or she must be reachable and also have good working relationships with the agency, driver and assistant guide, if there is one. The pay and opportunities are great for those who can manage this balancing act, because many times tour guides get free admission, free meals and even free products from the vendors they work with (who they bring the guests to visit). Here is a peek at this interesting and growing international profession!

A tour guide in Jordan.  A good guide must be easy to follow, both physically, informationally and visually.  Concentration, training and practice makes perfect!

A tour guide in Jordan. A good guide must be easy to follow, both physically, informationally and visually. Concentration, training and practice makes perfect!

Guided Tour - How Was It?

Information and Entertainment

Staying Engaged

Whether you are leading a couple or a group of 40 people, it's important to establish a relationship with the people you are leading, even if that relationship will last two hours or a few days.

An effective tour guide will notice when the tourists are looking tired, grumpy, distracted, or are suffering from the heat.

It's easy to go on automatic pilot and just do the tour, but once the two way communication is shut off, the tour is essentially over.

Staying Engaged

Maybe you have shown this church, statue or promenade 100 times - but this is your guests' first time to see it.

Staying engaged means being able to pull something out of you that you haven't given before. I always ask where my guests are from. If they are French, for example, I try to make some connection so that the tour will be more meaningful for them. It requires a little more effort but there is nothing worse that a tour guide who just goes on automatic. In this case, Elvis has definitely left the building, and the guests resemble zombies more than interested and captivated visitors.

Technical Tips

When guiding a group, try to keep them in a compact area so you don't have to shout too much. The posture should be authoritative but approachable. Intonation is important, too. When a statement is made "it happened in the 18th century" the voice should go down not up, as if asking a question. You know your facts - so - state them. Just the facts, ma'am!

Communication Means:

  • Speak Clearly.
  • Keep a pace that's easy to follow but doesn't lose your group.
  • Details are Important - but don't be professor-like or stiff and boring. Be concise, and humor is appreciated, too! After all, we are not in school....
  • Legends of the area are also interesting, but don't say it's true if you are not sure. "Some people say..." is OK. "Legend has it..." You get the point!

Language Tips

If possible, teach your guests a few words and phrases so they will feel more at home. For example, "Good morning", "See you later", "Where's the bathroom" or "Are you talking to me?"

History - maximum 50%

Many of your guests have been to other cities on their tour. They have seen other churches, cool architecture, museums, sculptures and cultural artifacts. So keep it brief and interesting. If they want more information, they will probably ask as long as they feel that you are open to that.

History can be pretty cool if you describe it well. "Can you imagine 50,000 crazy Turks climbing up a cliff, with arrows flying all around, only to overcome the fortress wall, and then to engage in hand to hand combat? Talk about mission impossible." Or, "as luck would have it, after surviving countless battles, he ended up drowning in his own bathtub." These are the things that will stand out later.

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Other Information / Entertainment

Besides history, there is other Information which amounts to the other 50% This can be legends about the area, stuff that can't be proven but is a part of the area's culture, fun factoids, bet you didn't know tidbits - and just silly stuff - "people say he looks just like Elvis", as well as insider tips "The locals prefer this place because of the garden view" - or "If you want to go, be sure to bring your own bottle" and so on. You are the closest thing they have to an insider or even a friend - a bridge between them and the locals.

Meander, don't rush.

After all a tour is you showing your friends around your favorite city, town or historical site. Make it enjoyable - not like a procedure that you can't wait to be done with! Remember too, when going from stop to stop, try to walk much slower than normal to allow time for photography.

Be Accessible

This is a good opportunity for shyer guests to approach you individually to ask a specific question. If it's a good one, when the group gathers up again, it's OK to say "I heard a great question - maybe some of you were wondering what this is..." and then just go on and share it with the whole group without identifying the one who did the asking! After all, they asked you in private because they might be shy or think that it's a dumb question.

Eye Contact

When addressing your group, turn your back to the object - church, architecture, sculpture, family crest over the door or whatever. You've seen it before! Talk to your group. Some tour guides refuse to wear sunglasses for this reason. I wear them but remove them whenever I can.

Here Comes The Sun

Let them get a birds eye view and always be considerate that they don't have to stand in the hot sun. Asian guests are particularly sensitive about this. Little acts of consideration go a long way.

How to Stay Engaged? Ask Them!

Communication is essential, while maintaining control. Some compare a good tour guide to a teacher, model and historian, administer of first aid, multi-tasker all rolled into one person. Many times, the best guides (not always) are over age 40, and are female.

Here are some questions to ask your group:

  • Can you hear me?
  • Am I talking loud enough?
  • Do you have any questions?
  • What do you want to know about?
  • Do you guys want to hear a legend?
  • Are you ready to take a break?
  • How was the tour?

Working With the Public - You Must Care!

Those who think tips are something extra do not realize the level of training a preparation required to be a good service representative, no matter what the industry.  Here, a waiter serves chilled drinks in Paris.

Those who think tips are something extra do not realize the level of training a preparation required to be a good service representative, no matter what the industry. Here, a waiter serves chilled drinks in Paris.

Receiving TIPS

Many professional professions rely on tips for survival, and tour guiding is one of them. (Others include waitressing, bartending, parking attendants, and so on.) At the end of a tour, it's not unusual to get a tip, especially if the guests are satisfied. The answer to the tip is "Thank you". There is a technique to receiving tips. Let's say the desired tip is a 50. When you get a 20 or a 10, it's always Thank You. Put it directly into your pouch so no one sees it or dwells on it. When you get a 50, hold onto it for a moment so the others see the 50. THIS IS WHAT YOU WANT THEM TO SEE - the amount of tip you would prefer to receive! It's subtle but it really works. After a moment of displaying it, put it away.

When people see that you received some money, they will generally not give you more. ("She earned enough!") It looks like a lot when it's wadded up but the reality is, most tour guides work half a year or less, and usually in the hottest weather, so the money they make is well earned.

Most tour guides wear a tiny pouch over the shoulder bag for keys, cellular phone and a pouch to "stash the money" at the end of the tour.


Anastasia Kingsley (author) from Croatia, Europe on January 05, 2015:

Thanks, Taylor for the positive feedback. It is something - like any other skill - that takes practice. I hope this steers you in the right direction and that you enjoy yourself as a tour guide while letting your guests feel that they are lucky to have had you as a guide ;) Good luck in your career!

Taylor Duda on January 04, 2015:

It's a first time that, I alook at this pages and get this interesting info guide and tips..

Anastasia Kingsley (author) from Croatia, Europe on May 03, 2013:

A tour guide is a teacher about a city, site or national park for example. If he or she can't get the message across, the whole point of the tour guide is lost. Thanks for reading and commenting, ECal

kholiswa Ntshebe on May 03, 2013:

why is it important for tourist guides to communicate effectivily?

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