What Makes a Top-Notch Tour Guide?

by Mia Steinberg

A tour company is nothing without its tour guides—they are the backbone of the entire operation. Being a tour guide isn’t just about reading facts from a sheet, though; it’s a very demanding job that combines performance, memory, and customer service all into one. While every tour (and every guide) is different, the very best tour employees have a certain set of skills that make them really stand out. Here are the things to look for when hiring tour guides that will last.

Skills of a Tour Guide

1: Communication

It all comes down to communication. A tour guide must be articulate and easy to understand, and know how to communicate with large and varying groups of people. A good guide will not only have the physical capability to command attention and project their voice clearly, but also have the interpersonal skills necessary to interact with new people every single day, answer questions, and be approachable.

2: Memory and Storytelling

When you run a tour, you’re selling more than just the sights and sounds; you’re selling knowledge, history, and a story, and your guide must make all of that information compelling. If a tour guide is reading off of cards or getting facts wrong, your guests will not be impressed. The ultimate goal is for your guide to know their script so well that it should seem like it’s their own story, and it should flow naturally from them rather than being obviously memorized. They’re not just giving out information; they’re essentially playing a role.

3: Humor

No one wants a dry, boring, humorless history lesson; they zone out, get bored, and just don’t have a good time. A guide with a good sense of humor will be able to inject some zest into their scripts and make the guests feel at ease and happy, increasing their enjoyment of the tour and cutting any tensions that may arise.

4: Passion

Even if your guide isn’t a local, they should be able to fool your guests reasonably well by having true insider knowledge of the best restaurants and neat little secrets that only residents tend to know. They should have true passion for the city or activity, and convey that passion to your guests.

5: Flexibility

Of course, a tour guide isn’t up on a stage delivering lines to a passive audience; your guests will have questions and comments, and your guide should be able to react to them with authority and enthusiasm. This means that the guide will need to know more than just the standard script, and be able to draw from that knowledge in an entertaining and compelling way. They need to be able to be flexible with the tour, adjusting for spontaneous moments and using a unique approach for different types of guests.

6: Punctuality

No one wants to sit around waiting for a guide; it’s incredibly unprofessional. Your best tour guides will be punctual to a fault, ready to accept your guests and able to organize them so that there are as few delays as possible.

7: Sensitivity

You’re going to have guests coming in from all over the globe and all walks of life, and they will have certain cultural expectations and social norms. The best tour guides are sensitive to these international differences, and are able to tailor their deliveries to respect their guests where possible. They should also be able to deal with guests who have special needs.

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