Would you like to become an International Tour Guide where you travel the world and get paid to lead tourist groups to exotic destinations? If this sounds like a dream job to you and would like to know how to get started, this article is for you. A lot of excitement and fun can be found along the way but it is important to realize it is no picnic; it is hard work and very competitive however, you have the opportunity to go to some fantastic locales for free, meet all sorts of interesting people and make some good money as well, including a percentage of the revenue from optional tours you are able to sell to your passengers and the tips they provide you at the end of the tour. Before you can lead your first tour, some effort and education will be required on your part.
Things You Will NeedTravel Experience; Certification Information; List of International Tour Companies; Cover Letter and Resume; References and Recommendations
Plan to become certified: Most international and some local tour companies require or prefer tour guides have some type of certification and you are more likely to be hired with a credential. Tour certification courses, running from as short as two weeks to six weeks or more, are conducted in selected U.S. cities, and provide certification in international as well as local touring and guiding. Once you have chosen a preferred course and location, submit your registration application and fee. You may have to secure hotel arrangements ahead if the course occurs in a city outside of your own area. One well-known school conducts its course on the University of Colorado campus during the summer and provides accommodation in the empty dorms for a small fee.
Taking the course: You will learn how to manage the day-to-day logistics of managing a tour and its passengers, how to sell and manage the funds for optional tours and events, how to deal with individual tour passenger personalities, emergencies and last minute cancellations and changes. You will also learn how to make presentations and give tour talks, although in some foreign countries, local guides usually provide the presentations with you tagging along. Your role is to make sure everyone is accounted for, comfortable, safe and on time at each tour point and that the trip falls in line with the advertised trip as closely as possible. In addition, you will use the travel company and collected optional tour funds to pay for the costs involved. When you complete the course successfully by passing written, video taped and/or on-site practical tests, you will receive a certificate of completion. Sometimes, the instructor will recommend you to different international and/or local tour companies located in the U.S., especially if you do well. A good recommendation from the school is gold. A travel company may even contact you when it needs an alternate or last minute director as happened to me.
After the Course if completed: Before you submit your applications to various tour companies, check with your state business registration office on how to become established as an Independent Contractor. In most cases, a tour company will hire you on a part-time or casual basis unless you are lucky enough to be hired as a fulltime employee of a specific company. It is not common in the beginning. As an Independent Contractor, you will need to request a taxpayer ID number from the state as you will be subject to income tax and will need to file a business tax form annually or quarterly. It is recommended you apply for membership to the American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA) if you plan on working as an Independent Tour Operator guiding groups by yourself without affiliation to any professional registered company. ASTA is the leading advocate for travel professionals and offers a many benefits for its members.
Apply to International Tour Companies: Prepare a cover letter and resume which focuses on any experience you have that relates to leading, managing or overseeing groups in any capacity; include information about professional as well as personal travel experiences, experience with making travel arrangements for yourself and others, and any experience living and/or working in foreign countries. Mention any foreign language ability and anything else that demonstrates your international tour capabilities such as working as a local tour guide in your own city. Most companies have a formal application to which you can attach a resume and cover letter. Make sure you fill out the application completely even though it may repeat what is stated on your resume otherwise, you may be rejected. If an application is required, it will be the main document reviewed by the company and a resume is considered supplemental. Do not be lazy and just refer to the resume. It shows attention to detail and thoroughness, skills you need as a tour director.
Follow up: Once you have applied to several companies (I would recommend a minimum of 10), follow up with them after about 3-4 weeks. Request to be forwarded to the Human Resources Department equivalent. Ask if there are any known openings, if your application has been received and what its status is, and inquire how the company selects its tour guides. Try not to get frustrated as it takes much patience and perseverance to get selected. Many companies will usually have a large number of applications to review; they will choose prospective guides when they need one in a pinch so luck has a lot to do with it however, they may invite you to an interview. Maintain contact with them approximately monthly or every other month. Don't contact more frequently lest you be considered a pest and that may out you at the bottom of the pile.
Practice locally: As you wait for that golden opportunity to strike, build your experience. Check with local guide services or destination management companies in your area or city and join their network either as paid guide or volunteer; this will give you experience in areas such as meet-and-greet events at airports, managing day and overnight trips, as well as restaurant, local destination, entertainment or shopping events. It will help you build a good reputation among guides, vendors, tourists and/or business visitors (returning visitors and/or destination companies will often request a specific guide that has proven to be helpful, entertaining and/or knowledgeable). As you add experiences, update your resume and send it to companies where you maintain interest. On a smaller scale, you could organize group outings for your own work colleagues, church and/or school colleagues; this could involve coordinating the event date, space and activities and taking care of collecting the required fees and payments.Small steps can lead to bigger tour management opportunities so long as you are persistent, consistent and active. Build your travel and destination experiences, be patient and take it step by step. There is no overnight success however; all tour guiding experiences provide valuable education and networking opportunities so make the most of them!
Tips & Warnings
* As you lead or participate in tours and destination events, keep a log to track your earnings, items for taxable deductions as well as notes regarding tour problems or issues, business contacts tips to remember for future events.
* If you join a local guide or destination network, offer to go on tours as an unpaid observer for training purposes. The company may pair you with a seasoned guide and you may earn a nominal stipend or at least free entry to events and free food.
* Go on some small tours as a paying passenger so you can take notes of the tour and how the guide manages the events and passengers. Chat with the guide; most guides will be willing to share information and tips if they know you are interested in joining the touring industry.