As a tour guide, your job will involve introducing tourists to the UK’s unique and popular attractions, such as historical monuments, botanical gardens, Royal Parks, museums, art galleries and other areas of cultural interest.
If you enter this profession, your primary responsibilities will include planning and organising tours around a certain area of interest. You will play the role of a cultural ambassador, offering commentary and interesting titbits of information, which will allow visitors to fully experience and enjoy the UK’s social, cultural and historical highlights.
You’ll most likely work as a freelancer, but you must also be registered with a local, regional or national tourism regulation board. Some tour guides are also employed by licensed tour operators, travel guide companies, the National Trust and local councils.
Salary & benefits
Tour guide salaries are typically low, ranging between £12,000 and £20,000, although you may be able to supplement your income by receiving tips from generous tourists or commission payments from tourist attractions.
Full-time employment is possible, but many tour guides work on seasonal contracts during the peak tourist seasons.
Payment rates are often calculated on a daily basis, and may or may not include expenses for food and accommodation (on overnight or multi-location tours). However, in large tour guide companies, these may be offered as part of the employment package.
Travel and irregular work schedules over a seven-day week are an integral part of working as a tour guide. However, you’ll be able to take a sufficient amount of time off once the tourist season has passed.
Many tour guides also have more than one job, since this is not a profession which can keep you fully occupied on a long-term basis.
Tourist seasons differ by country and region: it may be possible to work abroad as a tour guide during the UK’s low season, as the peak tourist seasons in different countries will understandably differ. In order to do this, you’ll understandably need to be willing to travel outside the UK.
There are no mandatory academic requirements for entry into this profession. However, professional training and registration are necessary. This is administered by the Institute of Tourist Guiding (ITG), the recognised professional body responsible for setting qualification standards and regulating the profession across the UK (except Scotland).
Fluency in the English language (tested with a verbal exam) is essential, and knowledge of another modern language would be an advantage. However, if you intend to provide tour guide services in a language other than English, you’ll need to complete a verbal examination in that language too!
Training & progression
The Institute of Tourist Guiding’s training programme for tour guides is structured into four distinct levels, with each level covering specific duties and services which can be provided by a tour guide.
Level one authorises tour guides to offer their services for a single site, while level two allows tour guides to provide commentary on a single, fixed route or a defined area, such as a historical building, stately home, cathedral, amusement park or commercial district.
Level three (a.k.a. the Green Badge qualification) allows you to work on flexible routes in a specific borough, city, town or rural area. The guide services you offer can be on-foot or by motor vehicle.
Level four, the highest level of qualification (a.k.a. the Blue Badge), allows you to conduct tours onsite, by foot or motor transport, covering a large area defined by a regional tourist board.
There is no pre-defined career path for tour guides. However, as you progress you may decide to start your own tour guide company or move abroad and use your charm, presentations skills and expert knowledge elsewhere.