If you see yourself as something of a traveller and a leader, maybe along the lines of Jack Kerouac or Christopher Columbus, then a career as a tour operator or tour guide could be a wonderful road for you to follow.
It’s probably best to say that these positions require people that seriously dig travelling and get excited by adventures abroad. If you’re not a fan, then it’s probably best not to read on! Unless, of course, you think you could be convinced that a graduate job in this field is for you…
What do I need to be a tour guide?
If you pursue a career as a tour operator or tour guide, you might be given the opportunity to travel the world. If you build up enough experience and expertise, you could find yourself explaining how the Grand Canyon was formed, who built the Pyramids, or how the different tribes in the Amazon Rainforest live their lives. There are no barriers. You just need to have a will to learn and a knack for absorbing information and passing it on.
To work as a tour operator or tour guide, you’ll need to be an excellent communicator, as well as having fantastic customer service and interpersonal skills. Above anything, you have to be genuinely enthusiastic about what you’re working on, even though you will have probably done the same tour a hundred times.
Imagine travelling halfway across the world to go and see the Hanging Gardens of Babylon and your tour guide completely underselling it to you (N.B. the Hanging Gardens of Babylon are one of the original Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, and no they don’t exist anymore. We just wanted to clear that up before you start planning your next adventure around visiting them).
What options do I have as a tour operator or guide?
As a tour operator, you’ll be expected to do anything and everything, from the planning, organisation and marketing of tours, to the coordination of different suppliers (e.g. transport companies) and employees (e.g. tour guides). It’s the tour operator’s job to design itineraries for tour guides to use, as well as creating actual brochures to promote and raise the profile of the tour.
As a tour operator, you will be researching the destinations you choose and deciding which would be the most profitable for your company. You’ll also be expected to proactively get out there and try to create partnerships with other organisations in order to boost your customer numbers.
For instance, you will strike up deals with specific travel agents and get them to recommend your tours in exchange for commission. This is absolutely essential and can be the difference between a successful and mediocre tour company.
As you can imagine, the role of a tour guide is a lot more customer facing. You’ll still need the same level of experience and knowledge, but you will have the skills to actively lead large groups of people and dish out the relevant information to them. You will also be in charge of looking after the safety of the tourists in your care.
So, it’s not so much mumbling things like “…and on the right you’ll see…” into a crackling microphone, and it’s not necessarily like what you see on Coach Trip. While it’s unlikely you’ll write a revolutionary new novel, or even discover a new continent (you win this round, Columbus!), you will be massively enriching other people’s travel experiences.
Without tour operators and guides, the Grand Canyon might as well just be called the Canyon. If you’re suitably grand, then a career in this field could be for you!