Thinking of becoming a tour guide? Daniel of Jerulita Travel gives a quick how-to and best practices of an expert tour guide.
#1 Prep in Advance
Most tour guides specialize in a certain geographical area and usually know it very well. But sometimes, during a tailored tour or due to a client’s special request, sometimes the itinerary can slightly differ than what they’re used to. It’s important to go through the expectations and make sure the program is exactly what the clients will expect. As a tour guide, I consider the tour program and schedule as a contract between my guests, the company that might recommend us, and myself.
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#2 Contact your client beforehand to get a sense of expectations
It’s always a great idea to get in touch with a client in advance. It’s important to introduce yourself, and get an idea of what the guests are looking for and what they expect. If you are aware of their interests–art or music, the offbeat or the general–then you can tailor the tour’s nuances to each guest specifically. It’ll give them the satisfaction of being taken care of, and instill confidence in them of your company’s professionalism. What’s more, you’ll be able to prepare yourself and your tour better to meet their needs.
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#3 Send a reminder e-mail – people like when they are taken care of
A day or a few days in advance, I find it’s generally good practice if you send a reminder email, confirming the meeting time and place. It will cost you literally nothing, and people will feel more secure. When travelers are arriving in a foreign place, they can feel disoriented. It will make a difference if they feel like they have a friend on the ground. Guests will feel secure and looked after.
#4 Wash your car before you meet clients
It’s the little details that make all the difference. Polish your shoes, clean your car, dress appropriately, and don’t overdo it with luxury accessories. Be polite and maintain a healthy personal distance. Show your guests that you respect them and their time with these little details.
#5 Don’t be late to pick them up
First impressions are everything! The worst start with a client to be late to pick them up. My grandma used to say, “I would better wait for a train for half an hour than it would not wait for me even a minute.” Arrive early. At Jerulita Travel, we really care about our clients. Showing up late is inconsiderate of their time and what it took for them to travel to the destination.
#6 Be an informative and entertaining tour guide
I shouldn’t have to share this with you, but be both informative and entertaining. A great tour guide shares a wealth of information and balances all the history, fun facts, anecdotes–with good humor, jokes and interesting ideas. Help your guests absorb the information with engaging stories. Tours aren’t supposed to be dusty lectures or mind-boggling courses on history. Extract the most interesting pieces of stories and history and stay positive, amusing, charming, and compelling. Bring history and geography to life.
#7 Do not exaggerate with testing the knowledge of a client
Many tour guides like to address their clients with questions before launching into their stories: Do you know why? You must know that… Most probably you know that… everybody knows that…
I find that such phrases can kill a conversation. They make people feel that you know better and are more knowledgeable than them. Nobody likes that. People pay you to tell them a story and to show the places, not for a pop quiz or to test their knowledge. On the contrary – give them compliments if you understand that they know things about your country.
#8 Don’t go overboard with the jokes
Good-natured humor is great, but I suggest that you don’t tell more that one joke per hour. A good joke can spice up a good story, and vice versa. But too many jokes and you can come across as trivial. Another challenge of a tour guide might be a person in a group who tells jokes more than it is appropriate. Find a polite way to stop their interruptions. People join your tour to get your guiding and not to listen to jokes of the group members.
#9 Let your clients ask questions
So there you are, all is well, you’re telling your clients a fascinating story. Suddenly, a wild question appears! You might feel a bit bitter or upset that your story is interrupted. What do you do? First of all, relax – the worst thing is to respond with irritation. Secondly, you can either their question right away, or say that you’ll come to it a bit later. If you answer right away, other guests may feel like their time is being wasted. But if you dismiss the question, you may insult your guest.
After hundreds of these types of situations, I’ve gathered that it’s usually the best practice to give at first a short answer, then follow up with more details to this question when it’s appropriate. You may find a quiet moment to pull them aside and tell them all the juicy details. Or, in the instance that their question is actually in the tour program, then you can say graciously, with a smile: “I’ll come to that in a moment.”
Another option is to ask the group if they’re interested in hearing the answer, and then you have the group’s permission to go ahead.
#10 Tour guides shouldn’t stand in one place too long
Tours often involve a lot of standing and lecturing on the guide’s part. Too long, however, and you may lose your guests’ interest. Make a point to always keep on your toes and move every so often. Try to find places with benches so that people are comfortable and at ease while listening. If you can incorporate a takeaway coffee, that’s even better. The more you take care of your guests, the more they will like you and what you tell them.
If the area isn’t the best for comfort, try to stick to the point and don’t stand the same scenery for longer than 10-15 minutes–some guides may even prefer 8-10 minutes.
Whether it’s food, history, religion, art — you’re deeply familiar with your subject, you swim in it like a fish in sea. But don’t forget that people on a tour hear it for the first time in their life. Even if they’ve read a bit in preparation, it’s largely brand-new to them. That’s why it’s useful to summarize your content every so often, which systemizes it in their memory. This way, they better retain what they hear. You care about your clients, that they will go home enriched by your tour, and have a story to bring home. A tour guide’s work is all about taking care of clients.
#13 Show the client that you love what you do
You love your job – otherwise, why would you be a tour guide? In every tour, choose at least one topic you like more than others and show off your passion. Allow people to enter your world and your excitement. Speak like you’re talking about it for the very first time, with a close friend. Your guests will take notice and will remember this piece of the tour more than the rest.
#14 Last Tips
Don’t forget the restroom and coffee/tea stops
Keep a healthy social distance
Avoid political debates
Refer to your personal experiences and stories
Smile Smile Smile