Myths and truths about being a tour guide

Thanks for visiting this article and for your interest in this beautiful profession, my only intention is to give you a deeper understand of the secret world of the guides, bringing down some myths/assumptions about this job and putting some facts on the table. So let’s start!

Oh! but first, let me guess why you all are here :

a) You had no idea that being a tour guide was a profession, and you think it is just a hobby 💃🏻
b) you know someone who is a tour guide or wants to be a tour guide, and you want to understand this profession a bit better.
c) you are interested in becoming a tour guide but you don’t know if this is for you.

Whatever the reason is BE WELCOME, I hope you enjoy this reading, by the way, if you want to know more about this topic feel free to leave a message at the end of this post or a private DM.

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After 15 years as a professional tour guide, I can assure you that this is one of the most misunderstood of all careers out there. I have heard all kinds of things about it such as -tour guides only seek to marry “gringos” – and many more things of that kind…

I also had many ups and downs in my professional life, and there have been times when I wanted to give up, but after this long time doing mainly what I love (15 years), I have reaffirmed my love for the profession and above all things I understand that professional tour guides are so much more than just guides, we are teachers, psychologists, performers with a comedian’s vein, storytellers, passionate defenders of our culture, we never run out of words and stories, hate uncomfortable silences, but at the same time we know that there are moments when a bit of silence during a long tour is also part of good service, and above all, we are an ambassador of our country… – wow, are tour guides are all that? – yes, we are all of that, and so much more.

Some myths and truths about the guiding career:

# 1 This is a very glamorous job:

Yes, sometimes, especially when you go to those luxurious restaurants that nobody that you know can pay, and everybody serves you like king/ queen because you are with “the group”, or when you travel and are given a 5-star hotel room with a jacuzzi and You feel like in a Hollywood movie; but when you have to be the one who puts the dishes on the table, and helps to serve the food for all your group because the restaurant employees are too busy and you are running late, or when one of your passengers does not feel good because of altitude sickness and you have to run to the pharmacy at midnight to get some medicines or even a doctor, or you have to comfort your client when his/her partner is ill, and what if this person has food poisoning? Who do you think will hold the plastic bag while holding her hair back.?…. 😂 ok ok, maybe this is the worst-case scenario, but I’ve don’t all of that and not just once, and when these situations emerge the word “glamour” comes down through the toilet and is replaced by your passion for the service, doing it all with the head up, with love, dignity, pride, humbleness, charm, and all framed with a big smile.

# 2 It is a super relaxed job:

This is a big NO, tour guides handle our emotions very well, we can be smiling and looking very calm outside while talking to our group, and at the same time be handling X number of unpredictable events: the bus is stuck in traffic 20 blocks away from the meeting point and will not be on time to pick us up; there is a protest and the main square was closed and tourists will not be able to see the “changing of the guards”; we will not be able to make it to the restaurant reservation or even worse, to the flight!… and as if all said before was not enough, you have a client saying that in their tour description she/he has included a museum that is not within your budget and the company does not answer the phone… ayayayyyyyy…. this work is not for everyone and you must have steel nerves at all times!.

Being a tour guide is like any other job, and I would say that sometimes even more demanding, most of my independent colleagues and I work during the high season in average from 10 to 12 hours per day, but the best part is that, if you do what you love, you will never have to work in your life.

# 3 You earn super well:

It depends on many things, the first thing is your experience and resume, if you have years in the market your work will be valued and you will have work opportunities to choose from, But, don’t get too excited…remember that this level of success depended on your experience, and there are no shortcuts to success, if companies and clients do not know you they will never pay you what you want, so, be patient, once you are there you can live well. I remember that in 2007 when I started, I earned $ 10 to $15 a day for a 4 to 6-hour tour 😭 not much for a guide in my city.

# 4 Tourist guides eat wonderful food everywhere:

Yes, yes, and thousand times yes. Peruvian tour guides, and Lima guides, in particular, eat delicious foods every day at work, we go to the best restaurants, we are invited to eat often by clients and restaurant owners, and we love food (maybe some of us love it too much 😂, I gained 20 kilograms since I started working as a guide, and I’m not the only one #confessionsofatourguide…). This is for sure one of the greatest pleasures of our profession.

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# 5 We receive gifts and all kinds of gratitudes from clients:

Yes, but it is not always and this should not be your motivation to become a tour guide. Indeed, some restaurants and shops where a tour guide goes regularly with tourists groups generally appreciate you enough to show their gratitude by giving you a free drink or inviting your lunch, but this does not happen every day or to all guides, and will take time to be built, that connection needs time. It is also true that tourists tend to give you a token or present as a way of thanking you for the wonderful tour/trip you gave them, but these objects are generally more of sentimental value than monetary, I keep most of those tokens: thank-you cards, magnets, books, and some other souvenirs. We can not forget the famous “tips” that are a sign of your client’s complete satisfaction with your service, BUT, don’t think that all tourists offer tips! In reality, there are few countries where this is part of their culture, and you SHOULD NOT become a guide if you expect to live on tips.

# 6 tour guides work alone:

This is another huge NO again, guides learn about teamwork since day 1, and you learn it the hard way sometimes. You arrive at your first tour looking very pretty, very “fashionably” dressed up, prepared to the show woman/man, but once on the bus you meet the person who will be your buddy and best friend the rest of the day and that will share the stage with you, the driver, who is the expert of the route; If you do a “click” (as we say in Latin America) with him, the tour will be the most entertaining experience for all the participants, including you. My driver–friends have not only transmitted me their knowledge (they work with hundreds of different guides and sometimes know better the history of the city, know who is a good guide and a bad one) but also helped me to work with many tour agencies recommending me to their employers, a drivers recommendation worth its weight in gold.

You will also find the TC (tour conductor), known as well as TD (tour director), the person in charge of the group, who can be a local or foreign tour guide, or the representative of the company that hires you, in many cases they know lots more than you do and sometimes they’re experience and knowledge can make them a bit bossier, so your relegation with him/her is a critical part of the success of the tour, if you have a TC/TD on board of your bus you must learn to be respectful, pass the microphone as many times needed, and listen to their comments to improve the quality of your tour, many times swallowing your pride. Many of my greatest friends in tourism are TCs who have taught me more on the field from their example than what I’ve learned in my 3-year career in a classroom. Keep in mind that there are more people involved: the staff of the agencies that hire you, restaurants, hotels, and even museums employees, this is a job to socialize.

# 7 All tourists are wonderful people:
🤦🏻‍♀️ I’m sorry to say this but the answer is No, we work with humans, humans are complex and there are all kinds of people everywhere. In my experience, 99% of my tourists have been kind, from which 50% have been very considerate and have even become close friends. But, that 1% !!…. That tiny group is the one I remember the most! 😂. Working with tourists can be easy if you are respectful of other cultures, religions, and traditions, and to reach that level of respect you must investigate, read, search and be always curious, but above all, to be successful as a guide you must be very empathetic.

# 8 you work when you want:

I’m not going to deny that before becoming a tour guide this was the part of the career that attracted me the most, but now I can say that we learn to take advantage of all the opportunities that present in front of us because we never know how next month will be if there is a new pandemic???? You prefer to have some money saved just in case, even sacrificing your free time, and then the time comes when your close friends start calling you workaholic… that is the moment when you are becoming successful …. I’m joking !!

I have worked for years on my birthday, mothers day, Independence Day, Christmas, and even New Year’s Eve, and I am not the only one! Until one day my daughter started to call me auntie 😩 😂 and realized it was too much… Unfortunately, this is not a rare “mistake” we tour guides commit, which often ends up destroying friendships and family relationships … sometimes it is a silent problem since you are always surrounded by people and never feel isolated, you think you are always socializing, without noticing that eventually you are being left behind for parties and family gathering, and then suddenly nobody calls you… ok ok, maybe I’m going to the extremes, but honestly, I was not the only one who passed through this, so my advice is to be careful with your relations and time and to try to find a balance from the beginning.

As a guide you must learn to manage your income and time, we have a high season and a low one, this can be a problem regarding money expectations, loans, or financial projections that you might need to assume in long term. In our field, speculation about the next year is normal, guides generally feel anxious about this topic, asking all colleagues their opinions about next year, and thinking in all the scenarios. Here the secret is to “save some bread for May” as we say in Peru, not to spend all your money even if you are doing super well and even have bookings for all the rest of the year, on this topic I imagine that most tour guides will always remember 2020 as the year that started with one of the best projections ever and ended up being a complete nightmare for all tourism industry in the world.

Remember that guides are ambassadors of our beloved country, you learn it the good way or hard way, it is very sad to think that many tourists leave the country they visit with a bad image of the people of that country only because of the treatment their guide gave them, they will come home with this image and as time passes by will associate the treatment given by its guide as the way all people are. I hope you always keep this in mind if you want to be a guide because it is a big responsibility. Once you become one you are no longer just you, you represent us all. After reading this entire article, do you think you can be a tour guide? do you still think is an easy job?

Find out if you can be a tour guide by checking out the following list:

  • Are you sociable? Are you afraid to have all eyes on you? Keep in mind that You will be the center of attention always.
  • Are you creative? remember that you will have to solve problems and you will have to deal with many complicated situations that do not come in any “the manual”.
  • Do you know how to manage your time and money? Do you like to save money? This is the tool for a successful tour guide financial‘s life
  • Do you love to read and learn? Keep in mind that you will never stop learning and you will never know enough, books will become your best friends.
  • And most importantly, are you empathetic? This natural quality will lead you to success.

If you marked yes to all, CONGRATULATIONS! This career is for you. Remember that in Peru we have a law that protects us, only those who study the technical career called Oficial Tour Guide (3 years) or the university career of tourism and hospitality (5 years) can become a licensed tour guide and be recognized as such before the law.

My last words: if you came to this article for option a). I hope that you have cleared up your doubts about our job and that you do not think any more of it as a hobby 🤦🏻‍♀️ 🙏, if you came for option b), congratulations, that person who wants to be a guide will have a beautiful job with plenty adventures and a full filling life, please help, advise and especially support him/her when the difficult times come (they will come). And if you came for option c) and you are still interested, Good Luck future colleague! Receive a big virtual hug from me, study, keep always be innovative and fearless, and never give up, remember that you should be the best ambassador of your country. So, Are you ready? If the answer is yes, prepare to live many adventures and impact the lives of many people!.

I hope you liked this article, if you enjoyed don’t forget to share it and comment on it if it helped you. A virtual hug to everyone from your tour guide in Lima-Peru, Vanessa.

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