How Can I Become a Professional Tour Guide?

Explore the career requirements for a professional tour guide. Get the facts about requirements for licensing and skills needed to determine if this is the right career for you. Schools offering Travel & Tourism degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a Professional Tour Guide?

Professional tour guides lead interpretive tours within cities across the United States and abroad. They provide tourists with information, as well as some entertainment. They may give tours of historic areas, museums, landmarks and more. They generally have extensive backgrounds and knowledge of the subjects they are talking about. Professional tour guides usually give multiple tours a day to different groups of people, but some may conduct longer tours that take days or weeks usually spread out over a trip. These tour guides typically work with travel companies. The following chart provides an overview of what you need to know about entering this field.

Training Required Safety; transportation; public speaking
Key Skills Knowledge of region tour is based in; ability to transfer info to audience
Licensure May be necessary in some cities and countries
Job Growth (2014-2024)* 5%
Mean Salary (2015)* $26,920

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Skills Do I Need to Be a Professional Tour Guide?

There are certain skills you will need to become a tour guide. Tour guides earn their positions by having a specialized knowledge of a particular culture or area, and possess the capability of making that knowledge accessible to a diverse audience.

According to the World Federation of Tourist Guide Associations (WFTGA), there are specific rules of professionalism intrinsic to being a tour guide (www.wftga.org ). A few of these include:

  • Presenting objective information
  • Being factual and distinguishing between legend and historical truth
  • Being respectful to the environment and people around you

Depending on where you want to work, you may want to obtain formal training to be a tour guide. Tour guide training covers topics like safety, transportation and public speaking, and will help make you a better and more qualified candidate for a tour guide position. Some programs will also assist in placing you with a touring company, as well as give you practical experience.

Do I Need to Get Licensed?

If you are interested in being a tour guide in the United States, you might be required to earn professional licensing, depending on which city or area you want to work in. If you plan on being a guide in any of the following cities, you will need to get licensed first:

  • Washington, D.C.
  • New York, NY
  • Savannah, GA
  • Charleston, SC
  • Gettysburg Battlefield, PA
  • Vicksburg Battlefield, MI
  • New Orleans, LA

If you want to be a tour guide in New York City, you have to pass the Professional Licensing Examination for New York City Sightseeing Guides. The test consists of 150 questions, and you need to answer 97 correctly. The questions cover topics such as New York transportation, history and architectural landmarks.

Becoming a tour guide in Washington D.C. requires submitting an application, which includes completion of the Professional Sightseeing Tour Guide Examination. You'll also need to be able to communicate in English and have a clear criminal history over the last five years.

How Can I Become a Tour Guide Abroad?

If you enjoy traveling abroad, you might want to get a job in another country as a tour guide. Keep in mind that rules about licensing and basic qualifications vary from nation to nation. Some countries where licensing is required are Argentina, Austria, Brazil, Egypt, Greece, India, Italy, Japan, Malaysia, Nepal, Peru, Singapore, South Africa, Sweden and Turkey. Many of these nations also require a formal training program. Australia, the Czech Republic and France are a few countries where licensing is not required.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

A couple related careers include teacher assistants and announcers. Teacher assistants typically need at least two years of college coursework, but no degree is required. However, some students choose to earn an associate's degree to increase their job prospects. These professionals help main teachers in a classroom by preparing lesson materials, working with students one-on-one and supervising students. Education requirements for announcers vary with the specialty you choose, but public address announcers typically only need a high school diploma. These announcers communicate general information to the public, such as train schedules, security information and more. They may also introduce acts or provide commentary for events.

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