Maybe you’ve been working as a tour guide for years and you’re ready to take it to the next level — perhaps you’re looking into how to become a tour director.
Or you’re just starting out in the tour industry and dreaming about where you could take your career. Either way, being a tour director is a job like no other.
You’ll wow guests with your storytelling skills, sharing your knowledge of the best spots in town and helping people tick items off their bucket lists. All this while traveling the world and making a living for yourself outside of the typical 9 to 5.
But being a tour director is much more than being a tour guide — and getting a job as one is no easy feat.
We’ll dive into the difference between a tour guide and a tour director, what skills and qualifications you need to become a tour director and share a step-by-step guide to help you land your first job as one.
Why consider becoming a tour director
Tour guides and tour directors share some similarities. While a tour guide might lead a group around a city, national park, or venue for a few hours, a tour director’s responsibility takes on a new level.
Tour directors lead groups over several days or even weeks, taking them to multiple destinations.
As a tour director, you’ll have many of the same responsibilities as a tour guide including:
- Guiding guests around a venue, site, or nature spot or on an activity
- Engaging the group and sharing information in a fun way
- Making sure everyone stays safe and together
- Expert knowledge of the local area and destinations en route
Of course, roles will vary for different tour operators. While a tour guide is responsible for staying with a group on a multi-day tour, a tour director takes on additional logistic and management responsibilities.
Typically, as a tour director, you’ll also be responsible for:
- Creating and/or providing any step-on guides to make sure the whole trip runs smoothly
- Connecting with accommodation providers, fellow tour operators and restauranteurs
- Email and/or phone communication with guests in advance of each trip
- Planning activity duration along with start/end times, and when guests can enjoy some free time
- Being available to guests (most likely 24/7) to answer questions and respond to emergencies
- Solving problems — like delayed transport, a closed venue, or guests leaving medication at last night’s hotel
- Transporting guests to different places or overseeing this transportation
- Staying on top of travel arrangements and keeping all plans on schedule
What does a Tour Director do
A tour director leads a group of travelers on a trip that could last anywhere from two days to several weeks. Along the way, you’ll visit multiple sites, most likely a range of historical, cultural, and nature sites, doing tours and activities at each one.
You may lead these tours yourself, and local tour guides (also called “step-on guides”) might join for portions of the trip. Local tour guides bring an insider’s perspective to a neighbourhood walking tour or expertise on a particular topic.
For example, on a 10-day trip around northern Italy, a local artist might lead a street art tour on one of the days and an expert sommelier may talk the group through a wine tasting on another day, then it’s back to you.
While some multi-day tours might be booked out by one group — like 20 family members getting together for a yearly reunion — you’ll most likely be leading a group of mostly strangers, helping them bond as you all travel together.
You can be hired as a full-time employee for one tour operator or as a contractor. So, the work can be flexible and you can decide how many tours you lead each year.
How Much Do Tour Directors Make?
According to Glassdoor, the average salary for a tour director in the United States is US$47,011, in Canada, it’s CAD$86,090, and in the United Kingdom, it’s £54,102.
But that salary can vary. It all depends on where in the world you work, how many responsibilities you take on during the trip, and whether you’re an employee, contractor, or tour director for your own business.
What Skills Do You Need to Become a Tour Director
Many skills of a tour guide are the same as those needed to be a great tour director. But here are the ones you’ll need to hone in particular:
1. Customer service
You’ll be dealing with guests day in, day out. You’ll need to be friendly, charming, and approachable, even when it feels like everything is going wrong.
2. Public speaking
You’ll need confidence speaking in front of large groups and the ability to capture people’s attention and tell a great story.
There are a lot of moving parts to consider. Your role guiding parts of the trip will be getting people from point A to B, working with step-on guides and multiple stops on the route.
You need to keep the whole trip moving on time, too. After all, you’ve got other activities planned!
4. People skills
You’ll need to bring together different personalities from around the world and adapt your guiding style to suit the group.
You’ll also be dealing with accommodation owners, restaurants, tour activities, venues, step-on guides, and drivers. It’s a lot of people to manage and you’ll have to be able to stay on top of communications.
Guests need to feel like their tour director has each situation under control. Ideally, you want guests to respect arrival and departure times. And it’s up to you to keep morale high when activities get sidetracked while managing group dynamics.
Plenty of things can go wrong: a guest gets sick, the weather rains off your vineyard tour, and the coach breaks down.
You need to be quick on your feet and flexible, managing the guests’ expectations while finding solutions to keep the tour moving. All while being calm and good-tempered despite any hurdles you come across.
7. Passion for the industry
Guests want a tour director who’s excited about what they’re doing — even if they’ve been on the road for three months straight. You’ll also love to keep learning interesting information to share with guests and new ways to share it.
8. Comfortable being on the road
While a tour guide probably sleeps in their own bed each night, as a tour director, you might be on the road for weeks at a time, stringing together long tours back-to-back.
What Qualifications Do You Need to Become a Tour Director
While many tour directors have a Bachelor’s degree, you don’t need one to break into the industry. A high school diploma may be enough depending on the tour operator you want to work for.
Degrees in business administration or tourism management are particularly useful, and you can even do tour guide training programs and specific training in tour directing from private companies.
Qualifications in common tour activities — like quad bike guiding or wine tasting — will make you stand out to tour operators who offer those types of tours.
You should also look into whether you need a tour guiding or directing license. This all depends on where you work. While some cities require you to get a license and pass an exam, others have no requirements at all.
How to Become a Tour Director: A Step-by-Step Guide
Convinced this is the career for you? Here’s how to make it happen.
Step 1: Build Your Skills as a Tour Guide or Through Other Jobs
As we’ve said, a tour director will be responsible for a lot of things, being both customer-facing and in charge of keeping things moving behind the scenes. The more you can build the skills needed for the job, the better.
The best way to do this is by working as a tour guide. You’ll get hands-on experience guiding guests, speaking about an area or venue, and keeping groups safe and engaged. Try guiding different types of tours (think food, history, and outdoor activities) to get a range of experience for your resume.
Even if you haven’t worked as a tour guide, you can build your skills through other jobs. Hospitality and events opportunities along with teaching jobs (especially if you volunteer to run a student trip) can build skills in leading and managing groups.
Step 2: Consider Training and Licenses
Consider getting some training in tour directing. You can look into local college courses or invest in an online course or in-person training. Doing so will not only build your skills, but it’ll also help you stand out from other applicants, especially if you don’t have much tour guiding experience.
There are plenty of companies offering tour guide training programs, but also some offering training for tour directors specifically, such as:
- The International Tour Management Institute offers a tour director course and certification through online learning and in-person training in California
- The International Guide Academy offers tour director courses in Denver, Fort Lauderdale, and onboard a cruise ship.
- TripSchool offer online and in-person tour director and guide training
Plus, you should consider any licenses needed to work in your country, as well as those needed to drive vehicles or teach adventure sports, which will help you stand out to tour operators.
Step 3: Prepare Your Resume, Cover Letter, and Video Introduction
Tour director hiring is very different to tour guide hiring. Tour operators will be looking for many of the same things — personality, people skills, reliability — but they’ll also need to see if you can guide guests over longer trips.
But how do you show that without meeting a tour operator in person? Here’s what to consider when applying for tour director jobs. On your application:
- Include interests and hobbies: of course travel is one of these, but what else? Tell the tour operator about your love for architecture, rafting, or modern art, especially if they offer tours related to that topic.
- Include a photo: it’s a customer-facing role afterall. Make sure you look friendly yet professional, and the photo is high-quality and clear.
- Keep it short: Keep your resume concise and to one page.
- Include extra skills: Don’t forget to include any languages you speak or if you hold multiple passports — especially if the tour operator offers international tours.
And when crafting your cover letter:
- Let your personality shine through: don’t just repeat what’s on your resume. Add more personality and share why you’d be great for this role.
- Mention past employers wisely: If you mention tour operators you’ve worked for in the past, remember it’s a small industry. The company you’re applying to may know them and reach out for a reference, so only include them only if they have nice things to say about you.
- Tailor it to the job and tour operator you’re applying to: if the tour operator mainly runs student tours, for example, talk about how you can engage a group of rowdy kids or make history fun for young people with your lively storytelling
- Keep it short: around two to three paragraphs should be enough.
While not every tour operator will require a video, more tour companies are requesting it as part of the hiring process. A video introduction allows you to introduce yourself, share more about your skills, and offer an anecdote about your experience that demonstrates why you’re the right person for the job.
The benefits of video introductions are that tour operators can see your personality beyond what they can absorb from your resume and cover letter. Plus, you’ll have a better chance to showcase your confidence, humour, and speaking skills.
Some tips for video introductions:
- Keep it short: one to two minutes maximum.
- Write a script beforehand: this will reduce the chance of stumbling over your words, going off on a tangent, or your mind going blank.
- Record yourself and watch it back: are you speaking too robotically or too fast? Are you smiling? Are you standing in the shadows? Is your brightly coloured checkered sweater too distracting?
- Film in the right spot: make sure it isn’t too noisy, or dark, and you don’t have a distracting background.
- Consider investing in a phone microphone: this will help to improve the sound quality.
- Skip the selfie angle: ask a trusted family member or friend to film you or use a tripod.
Step 4: Look for Tour Director Jobs
There are a few different places you can find tour director jobs:
Online Job Boards
Search for upcoming hiring conferences and grab yourself a ticket. For example, the International Association of Tour Directors & Guides has a hiring event where you can interview multiple tour operators as well as attend educational talks.
Prepare some business cards and copies of your resume to take with you to these types of events, even if you don’t have interviews lined up. After all, you never know who you’re going to bump into!
Online Groups and Networking
Online communities and social media groups in the tour industry are great for meeting people, but they’re also a gold mine for finding jobs. Tour director jobs may be shared directly in these groups, or you can reach out to your connections to see if anyone knows of a company that’s hiring.
Contact your local tour guide guild to see if they can connect you with tour operators looking for tour directors. And be sure to reach out to any tour director or tour guide friends to let them know you’re looking for a job. You never know who is connected to who.
Reach Out to Tour Operators
Be proactive in your search and reach out to tour operators to ask if they’re hiring any tour directors. If peak travel season is coming up, they may well be. And if not, they might keep your resume on file and get in touch at a later date when they do need a tour director.
Becoming a tour director may seem like a daunting challenge. But by building the right skills and experience, preparing your application materials, and knowing where to look for jobs — you can land your dream job.