Do you know your city inside and out, its hidden gems, and its deepest, darkest secrets? Do you love meeting new people, showing them around your city, and having them see it through your eyes? If so, then becoming a local tour guide may be a great way for you to turn your passion into profit!
Local tour guides show guests around and have them experience the local places, spots, shops, food, and adventures just like someone who has lived there all their lives would experience them.
Today, we look at what a local tour guide does, what it takes to be one, steps to offer your services as a local tour guide, and companies to join as a local tour agent.
What Does A Local Tour Guide Do?
Simply put, a local tour guide is someone who is intimately familiar with a particular city or region and is able to show visitors around.
While there are no specific educational requirements to do this job, there are plenty of good training materials out there.
The main requirement is that your heart is in the right place, and you’re 100% in love with traveling and spreading the love of travel.
A local tour guide may or may not also be a licensed tour guide. You normally need to be one if you’re planning to guide tourists in a museum or if you’re employed by the government, non-profit environmental organizations, and private companies with any nature-based industry.
These are the qualities you need to have to become a local tour guide:
- Knowledgeable about your city – Even if it is your hometown, remember that your customers are paying you for more in-depth knowledge and they expect you to know everything about each and every destination on your tour.
- Extraordinary storyteller – That said, you’ll need to present your knowledge in a memorable way. Catch the attention of your group while discussing a destination’s history, facts, myths, and so on.
- Enthusiastic – The information you share might be interesting, but if your delivery is flat, your customers will sense it and they wouldn’t care about what you’re saying. Make them feel how much you love your city.
- Responsible – You are leading tourists who are unfamiliar with your city; you need to be mindful of their safety and comfort.
- Well-informed about different cultures – It doesn’t matter if you’re only touring locally. People from different cultures and backgrounds may be part of your tour, so it’s ideal to know the basics, or at least enough that you don’t inadvertently offend them.
- Superb communicator – Ultimately, leading local tours means you’re going to be talking to people every day. Not only that, but you’ll also need to listen to them to know what they want and need. You should be able to do both.
- Adaptable – You should be able to adapt to any situation quickly, especially emergency situations. This also means you should be able to get along with your tour group, as they have different personalities and different things they want to get out of your tour.
- Physically fit – Long walks, running, and standing for hours are par for the course for local tour guides, so you need to make sure that you’re up to these physical demands.
Join a tour company or be your own boss?
If you’re hoping to become a local tour guide, you can either do it as a part of a tour company or as your own boss.
You can land a local tour guide position, tour manager, itinerary maker, tour guide supervisor, and so on with traditional travel agencies. These jobs are also available at theme parks, museums, cultural centers, and other tourist destinations.
Do note that except for managerial positions, most tour guides are usually only hired during certain seasons.
The main benefit of being employed in a company is that you won’t have to worry about organizing your schedules, finding clients, and marketing your services. This leaves you free to be the best local tour guide you can be.
On the other hand, if you start your own company, you will be in total control of everything, from the packages and itineraries, themes and gimmicks, etc. As such, all of the income will be yours as well.
However, you’re going to be wearing more hats as an owner and local tour guide, since you’d have to continuously network and market your business to fill in your calendar. It can be quite exhausting, to say the least.
I recommend you begin as a contractor or employee for another company to dip your toes into the industry, then launch your own service when you’re experienced enough to tackle all facets.
How To Become a Local Tour Guide On Your Own
With the advent of the internet and social media, it’s never been easier to offer your services as a local tour guide and start your own business. Here are the important steps to take if you want to become a tour guide.
1. Education and qualifications.
As mentioned, this job doesn’t have specific educational requirements, but if you can do some training or research more on the most interesting places and facts about your city, that will certainly help you become a better tour guide.
If you’re a history, geology, anthropology, archaeology, or something similar, you may want to apply to be a licensed tour guide, especially if your area has plenty of museums and other historic tourist destinations.
2. Decide what kind of local tour you’re going to offer.
If you live in a city with plenty of sights to see and adventures to undertake, it may be overwhelming when creating an itinerary that covers as many significant places as possible. Here are some ideas of different types of itineraries you can plan as a local tour guide:
Tours centered around teaching a new skill. Consider activities or experiences that visitors new to your town or city would be happy to learn that they don’t get to do every day.
Think samba dancing in Rio, or cheesesteak-making in Philly.
For example, if you live by a body of water, you could create a tour that teaches visitors how, where, and what to fish. If you live by a state park or preserve, you might offer tours that teach people how to spot and pick edible wild mushrooms.
Tours centered around historical events, people, or places. Old cities and towns are perfect for this kind of tour, as chances are that the history of that place is interesting.
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Washington, DC is a good example of a historic place.
Tours centered around activities. If you live in a scenic place, try to create a walking or hiking tour that provides plenty of sights. Maybe even have an overnight camping tour.
If the thrills in your area are more of the urban type, maybe a tour of your local amusement park and shopping centers is more appropriate. Or maybe a ghost tour or abandoned buildings tour at night can thrill your audience.
Customized tours. You might also provide different itinerary options, with portions that swap out for others in case the client wishes to create his own customized experience.
3. Promote your services.
Use social media or go as far as creating your own website to advertise your tours. Harnessing both is better, of course.
It may also be a good idea to team up with some local businesses, where you might grab a discount or incentive in exchange for bringing in tourists. These businesses can also advertise your tours to their own clients, thus expanding your reach.
4. Set your price.
To be able to set your price, consider your time and effort in creating the tours, your add-ons such as meals, drinks, souvenirs, etc., and the local competition. Check online prices of similar tours to have an idea of how much to charge.
How Much Can Local Tour Guides Make?
If you offer a tour that is a good value for the tourist and take them places where traditional tours don’t go, you can easily charge $200 for 2 hours. Add in a few incentives like a guide book or complimentary appetizers and drinks, and you can charge even more.
When it comes to tours, you’re better off creating a quality tour that costs more money than a “value-priced” one that just about anyone can complete on his own.
You can easily earn more money if you are fluent in languages other than English (Spanish, Japanese, French, Mandarin, Korean and Italian are the top in-demand languages).
Tourists have disposable income and are looking more for an incredible experience that they can brag about back home than for a way to save money. So don’t be afraid to create some amazing experiences and charge premium prices for them.
If you already have a touring business setup and you’re looking to make more money from it, Matthew Newton’s Sell More Tours is a must-read.
8 Companies Hiring Local Tour Guides
As I’ve mentioned, starting with tour companies and studying how they operate can help you get the knowledge you need to go on your own.
The following companies can help you kickstart your local tour guide gig, whether you plan to do this on the side or set-up a full-scale tour guide business.
This website describes itself as “a community of people who love to travel and be in touch with different cultures.” You’ll need to send an application to join, but once you’re in, you’re automatically known as a “local friend.” Fill in your profile completely.
For $100/year membership fee, this company provides you with a personal web page and marketing help in exchange for signing up.
As a local friend, you can accept or reject a request from a client. If you do accept the gig, the clients pay Rent a Local Friend 30% of your fee, then receive the rest after successfully completing the scheduled tour.
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To join ToursByLocals, you’ll need to pass two phone interviews, pass a background check and provide local legal requirements.
Once you’ve been accepted, you can create your services page and begin marketing your business.
This company doesn’t require upfront fees to join, even if they provide free training, marketing, payment processing, and a $3 million in liability insurance.
However, you will need to share 20% of your fee with them every time you complete a successful gig.
Context provides private tours or small group tours with a maximum of 6 people in every major city across the globe.
Extensive knowledge of your city, local hot spots, and the biggest attractions are a must.
Most tours fetch between $100-$200 per hour, and that’s not including any tips you may receive from your group for doing an exemplary job.
Context’s dedication to sustainable tourism and making a minimal impact on local culture make them one of the most premier touring companies out there.
Withlocals works with individual freelancers who want to show their city and share their passions.
This Netherlands-based company follows the same process as ToursByLocals – you post an “experience” or customized tour, wait for clients, do the job, and then wait for your income.
Withlocals deduct their 10 to 20% fee from you every time you complete a job.
Shiroube (pronounced shi-ru-bé) is an international company boasting 5,000+ tour guides in over 3,000 cities.
This is a bit different than other companies.
Shiroube does not charge upfront fees, nor does it collect commissions for every job. Shiroube also doesn’t charge travelers any fees.
So how does Shiroube earn money? Apparently, the company worked out sponsorship plans with corporations to avoid charging people fees.
Everyone gets a free account by default. With this free account, you can create 3 ads to promote your local tour guide services.
If your city or town is known for its cuisine and you’re an expert in the kitchen (whether you’re a professional cook or a next-level home cook), being a host for Traveling Spoon may be a great side gig for you.
You can go through the whole application process, even the interviews, online.
Once you’re approved, you can start hosting tourists. You get paid at least 8 hours before your guests arrive.
FREETOUR allows you to create your own tour and share it with the world through their platform.
As the name suggests, the tours here are mostly free, with your guests paying you in tips. You still have the option of setting your tour as a paid one, with guests paying 20% upon booking and the rest when the tour is over. However, you’ll get way fewer bookings this way.
Think of free tours as a promotional offer for you to advertise your services as a tour guide so you’ll have existing contacts when you do start your own venture.
This website connects tourists with locals who know their city better than anyone else.
When you sign up as a local to Showaround, you get to determine your hourly rate, your tour itinerary, and who you want to show around your hometown.
The more tours you go on, the more reviews you’ll collect, and the more you establish your reputation on the site and the higher you get ranked on their search algorithm.
The Bottom Line
Becoming a local tour guide is simple as long as you have the heart and right skills to do the job. However, like many freelancing gigs, the challenging part is marketing your service to your target audience.
With these 8 companies hiring local tour guides, you’ll receive free training on how to network, market, and expand your business.
And when you’re ready to scale up, I’d recommend you build your own website, so you’ll have your own, safe online space if any of these companies decide to close shop in the future.
Do you think you have what it takes to become a local tour guide? Does this seem like a business you can do? Share your thoughts with us in the comments!