Imagine travelling somewhere completely unfamiliar to you—a foreign country or a different city. You would probably have many questions: Where are the best places to eat? How do you get to your hotel? What sights should you see? If you were travelling abroad, you might also have questions about language, customs, and the value of your money in foreign currency. Now imagine being the person who has the answers to all those questions, and you will have an idea of what it is like to be a tour guide.
Tour guides escort groups of people who are traveling to different cities and countries. Essentially, their job is to make sure that their travelers have a safe and enjoyable trip by planning and overseeing every detail of the tour. Some guides take passengers on short excursions, which may last a few hours, a full day, or even overnight. For example, travelers visiting Los Angeles might take an all-day tour of Beverly Hills and Hollywood. Other guides—who are sometimes also called tour managers—accompany their groups on longer trips, lasting anywhere from a few days to a month. These longer trips generally involve travel to foreign locations and may include visits to several different cities or countries.
Tour guides who own their own businesses are responsible for making all the necessary arrangements for a trip prior to departure. Depending upon the length and type of the trip, this could involve several different things. They might book airline flights, ground transportation such as buses or vans, hotel rooms, and tables at restaurants. If anyone in the tour group has special needs, such as dietary requirements or wheelchair accessibility, the guide must attend to these needs in advance. Guides also plan the group’s entertainment and make any necessary advance reservations. They may reserve tickets to plays, sporting events, or concerts. They may also contact other guides with specialized knowledge to give group tours of various locations. For example, for a group visiting Paris, the tour manager might arrange for a guided tour of the Louvre one day, and another guided tour of the famous Left Bank on another day.
Tour guides who work as freelancers for tour companies do not usually do this type of advance booking. The tour company handles all booking, and guides are tasked with confirming the reservations. Once the plans have been made and the tour begins, the guides’ duties may include almost anything that makes the trip run smoothly. They must make sure that everything goes as planned, from transportation to accommodations to entertainment. They must see to it that passengers’ luggage is loaded and routed to the proper place. They must either speak the local language or hire an interpreter, and they must be familiar enough with local customs and laws to ensure that no one in the group unwittingly does anything illegal or offensive. They must make sure that all members of the group stay together so no one gets lost, and that they are on time for various arrivals and departures.
In addition to merely monitoring the particulars of the trip and chaperoning group members, the tour guide is responsible for educating the group about the places they are visiting. Therefore, guides are generally very familiar with the locations they are visiting and are able to answer questions and provide a sort of entertaining and educational commentary throughout the trip.
Guides must be prepared to deal with unexpected difficulties or changes in plans. If a point of interest is closed, if a hotel has failed to reserve enough rooms, or if weather conditions delay travel, it is up to the guide to make alternative arrangements. The guide is also responsible for attending to whatever needs travelers might have. This could include anything from calling the hotel concierge for extra blankets to taking a sick traveler to the hospital. While tour group members are traveling in unfamiliar territory, they depend upon the tour guide for almost everything.