Being a successful tour guide doesn’t happen overnight. You can’t just snap your fingers and wake up as Kelsey Tonner. If you want to differentiate yourself from other guides, double your tips, and become a tour director one day, you have to improve your tour guide skills.
Of course, that might happen naturally as you gain experience over time — especially if you do a self-evaluation at the end of every tour. Similar to a stand-up comedian scoring jokes after the show to learn what works and what doesn’t. But one of the best and fastest ways to fine-tune your skills is to take a few tour guide training courses.
By learning directly from the experts, you can get insider tips on real-life scenarios so that you know how to lead tours like a pro, which will help you feel more competent and confident as a tour guide. Not to mention, spruce up your LinkedIn profile with a snazzy tour guide certification to add credibility to your skillset.
So, where can you get started? We break down the top 4 tour guide training programs in the industry right now. Specifically, those that offer online courses, so that you can level up your tour guide skills in your pajamas during this unsolicited downtime.
(P.S. if you are a tour operator reading this, you can better support your tour guides by offering intensive, in-house tour guide training and encouraging professional development with the following courses below)
Top 5 tour guide certification programs
If Shane Whaley from Tourpreneur gives something his stamp of approval, you know it has to be good. After taking one of the TripSchool workshops, Shane shared that the learning experience was intense, brutally honest, no sugar coating, and well worth the time and money. (You can see the full review in the Tourpreneur Approved Directory).
In other words, TripSchool isn’t kidding around. Combining over 40 years of experience in the industry, the founders, Mitch Bach and Alan Armijo, are passionate about helping tour guides grow their skills based on everything they’ve learned first-hand. In fact, they’re often described as the Dynamic Duo by their long list of graduates.
With TripSchool, you can choose your own training adventure. Between live, interactive workshops, self-paced online courses, and in-person classes, there’s an option for almost any learning style. TripSchool also has a library of tour guide handbooks, written by tour guides, that provide insight on how to lead tours in the most in-demand tourist hot spots of the United States.
For new tour guides, you might want to start with the Tour Director & Guide Certification. In this course, you’ll learn how to improve your tour guide skills by completing a three-step process:
- Online course: 10 days of covering essential terminology and concepts behind tour directing
- Boot camp: 6 days of applying what you learned to the field with a small class size
- Work and mentorship: TripSchool won’t leave you hanging. After completing the course, you’ll get access to continued education and graduate support to help you succeed in your career
That’s not all, TripSchool also offers a Getting Hired Series, with real critiques from tour operators on what they look for in a resume and interview, as well as short destination training sessions (2-3 hours of jam-packed tips). I can go on and on; you’ll just have to see yourself by checking out the Online Tourism Training Library.
2. Be a Better Guide
If you’ve been in the tour industry for a while, you’ve probably heard about Kelsey Tonner by now. As a world-famous tour guide with experience in 15+ countries and founder of Be a Better Guide Project, Kelsey comes with a wealth of knowledge that he’s generous to share with tour guides and operators everywhere.
Watch one of his free training videos, and you’ll walk away with something you can apply to your tours. Added bonus: Kelsey is down-to-earth, friendly, and enthusiastic — top tour guide qualities that likely got him to where he is today. Meaning, he makes an excellent instructor while also setting an example of how to be a people-person as a tour guide.
With over 17,000 members, Be a Better Guide has become the go-to place for useful and practical tour guide resources. The social proof speaks for itself. And if you’re looking for a more immersive learning experience, the Online Tourism Academy offers in-depth lessons, led by experienced, award-winning trainers.
Here are a couple of tour guide courses you may find interesting:
- Lead Amazing Tours: a complete, step-by-step system to give unforgettable experiences, get rave reviews, and earn more customers.
- Extraordinary Storytelling for Tour Leaders: learn effective, real-world strategies to hone your skills as a storyteller with a complete toolkit of practical techniques.
3. International Tour Management Institute
Around since 1976, the International Tour Management Institute (ITMI) is one of the longest-running tour training programs in the industry. Over 8,000 tour guides and travel leaders have graduated from ITMI, who, as alumni, enjoy exclusive access to an online community of tour professionals, the industry’s largest database of tour resources, and the annual ITMI Symposium — a networking and educational event.
Like the TripSchool, ITMI’s Tour Certification Program breaks up the curriculum into three sections over the course of two months:
- Tour Leading Fundamentals: learn all about the key concepts and skills required in the field (3 weeks of online classes and assignments)
- Learning Lab: spend a full week with your classmates in-destination, and apply what you learned to practical, real-life scenarios (8-day in-person intensive training)
- Career Launchpad: get the support you need with a career action plan and online coaching (3 weeks of one-on-one sessions)
ITMI values the entire program at over $14,000, but tuition is less than half of that. If you’re unsure about investing that much money, think of it like a college degree. An ITMI certificate is recognized internationally, and they partner with over 1,000 tour companies worldwide, so they can help jumpstart your career with suitable job opportunities.
Don’t wait to apply for admission. ITMI only takes 175 students into the certification program. Or check out what other courses they offer, like the Student Tour or National Parks Master Class. (P.S. if you’re a tour operator, you can work with ITMI to design a customized training program for your tour guides).
4. International Guide Academy
Like ITMI, the International Guide Academy (IGA) has been around for a long time. First established in 1973, IGA has 47 years of experience training tour guides and directors in four continents, including places like Australia, Hong Kong, and even at sea on a cruise ship.
IGA offers both a tour director and tour guide course, which you can take back to back and receive a tuition discount. It’s important to note that tour guides and tour directors require different knowledge and training, so being able to get both certifications at a lower cost is a double whammy.
In just seven days, the Tour Guide Class goes over everything you need to know, including travel industry terminology, conduct and ethics, commentary skills, your role as a local expert, and so much more. As a graduate, you also receive lifetime job placement assistance and access to a detailed list of 200+ tour operators and their contact information.
With instructors from all over the world and different cultural backgrounds, IGA is looking to expand its number of international locations where you can do your training. But for now, they’re holding the tour guide programs entirely online, so be sure to check their website for upcoming class dates.
Accredited by ILM — Institute of Leadership & Management — EastguidesWest offers coaching for tour leaders worldwide, especially remote and emerging destinations. Founded by two tour directors who are both ITMI-certified, Sjannie Hulsman-Louwers and Barnaby Davies strive to make tourism education more accessible to all by passing on their knowledge and expertise online and on-site.
While they invested thousands in their own tourism training, they generously share their insights and how-to at a fraction of the cost in as little as three days. With a primary focus on Western tourism expectations and sustainability, EastguidesWest’s field training covers cultural sensitivity, body language and public speaking, pricing with a business mindset, personalized guest attention, and so much more.
Now, don’t worry if you can’t travel for training. EastguidesWest also has budget-friendly online tour guide courses you can work through on your own time, which are currently on sale due to COVID-19. There are twelve courses in total (with more to come), so that’s twelve certifications to spice up your resume and help you land a job with a tour operator.
Speaking of, EastguidesWest connects local tour guides to Western tour operators through an ever-growing global network of tourism professionals. Not to mention, they’ve recently launched a program to help tour guides in need where tour guides can get support from donations. So if you could use some assistance paying for basic necessities right now, send in your tour guide crisis application form.
Other fantastic courses for tour guides
We already know that tour guides wear many hats. They must have good storytelling skills, know how to handle large groups, and exceptional time management and navigational abilities. But what really makes a tour guide stand out to both tour operators and their guests? Being prepared for almost anything that comes your way with a diverse skillset.
So, it’s good to take courses outside of guiding to become a more well-rounded and successful tour guide. Here are a few ideas to start you off:
- Improvisation: tour guides have to be on their toes from check-in to check-out. Learn how to keep the tour guide jokes going in-between your scripted bits by taking on online class with Second City Works — the largest school of improvisation and sketch comedy in the world.
- Public speaking: most of the above tour guide courses will go over effective techniques here, but if you want to fine-tune your public speaking skills to make the tour less of a presentation and more of a conversation, consider taking this LinkedIn course.
- Marketing: many tour operators have enough on their plate already, and could always use some marketing help. Show how invaluable you can be to the operation’s success by helping to grow its online presence. The Tourism Tribe offers a bunch of affordable digital marketing courses for the tourism industry, including Blogging for Tourism, Facebook Ads 101, and a short Instagram workshop.
- Videography: tour operators love getting their hands on content to attract and engage social media followers. Help them out by getting incredible footage of their tours (ones you aren’t leading). Here’s an excellent cinematography course on SkillShare with a focus on travel filmmaking.
Don’t forget to check out if there are any certification programs offered in your country to improve your tour guide skills. And if you are looking to become an adventure guide, you’ll want to look for specific courses and licenses in your niche. Best of luck in your career as a tour guide!