How to be an awesome tour guide?
May 25, 2012 10:03 PM   Subscribe

How can I be an awesome adventure tour leader for international tourists visiting the US?

In a little less than a month I start work as an adventure tour guide. I'll be taking tourists around the US to camp, hike, check out National Parks, Monuments, and awesome cities. This will involve a lot of time driving, a lot of time with first time campers, and a lot of time as guide.

My clients will (I think) mostly be younger (18-35), European tourists. I will be the only one with them. These trips will last from one to six weeks, and will range from quick jaunts around the southwest to coast-to-coast craziness. I'll have 13 or 14 clients at a time.

What can I do/study/read/watch between now and then to be the most awesome tour guide imaginable? What can I do once I'm on the road with them to increase awesomeness(and tips)?
posted by piedmont to Human Relations (7 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I went on a trip where the tour guide tried to make us do a thousand things a day. It was so incredibly exhausting. She was also very focused on the schedule to the point where people stated that the trip was the most stressful experience in their lives. Don't be like that tour guide.
posted by livinglearning at 10:13 PM on May 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

You will be so busy solving problems that awesome will just happen. That's why they hired you. You will be asked questions -- lots of them. Each time you are unable to answer a question your awesomeness slips a notch. READ a lot about each route. Google is your friend. If you don't know the answer to a question -- make a guest look it up. You will need to take charge in the beginning and be the leader. Establish that you are the 'captain-of-the-ship' early on or you will be under mutiny in no time. Ignore this at your peril. You are expected to know everything. People will be checking your facts real time on Google so dont give wrong info -- diffuse this by making it interactive. You're a 'guide' not a scholar and not a super hero. I did six different tours on one island and it took me TWO years to master it. Good luck on your adventure. Remember lead but also delegate to your group members. Make them work -- they will love you for that. It's the best advice i can give you. Always smile -- have a game face on. I always had it on. always. never let it slip once in two years. You are basically on stage. Sorry but Europeans --and i mean this in a good way -- tough crowd -- the good guides in Europe are not just good -- they are AMAZING -- tough bar! Tipping is not customary for European culture. Good luck...
posted by Muirwylde at 11:54 PM on May 25, 2012

Ask me questions by email. I was (and still am) a state-certified guide in the Hawaiian islands.
posted by Muirwylde at 11:59 PM on May 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

I worked as a tour guide in summer for a penguin colony in Australia of all things, anyway not quite what you are doing but some things I learned.

Expect dumb questions and having to repeat the same basic info over and over again. Remember just because you know things doesn't mean they do, keep telling yourself there are no dumb questions.

People love stories about places not just facts, learn to be a story teller. Yes that's the tallest mountain in the state, what they'll remember about it is the story you told them about the time you tried to climb it and xyz happened. Or it was the scene of some great disaster/event. You are going to have to be a performer and be on.

If you don't know an answer to a question don't fake it. You can say you don't know you think it's X but it could be Y and you'll look it up/ask another guide as soon as you get the chance.
posted by wwax at 6:21 AM on May 26, 2012

Learn to read your groups. Every group is different and you'll need to be a bit of a chameleon to make them all happy. If your group is quieter and into accumulating knowledge, be the educational leader who provides enough downtime. If your group is more hyper and trying to cram as much as possible in to their journey, have some extra activities in your back pocket that you can pull out when they're looking for more. If they like a good time, know the places they can go when you are in town to unwind. (Note, you don't have to do all these things with them unless you want to, you just need to know how they can do them).

When I was a tour leader, leaders with a strong style always found that they were really popular with some groups but also received more complaints from groups that they didn't mesh with. Those that were most successful were those that were able to tailor their style bit more to match whoever they were leading.

And yes, some Europeans don't tip very well, but that's hardly universal across the board.
posted by scrute at 12:11 PM on May 26, 2012

And in my experience, the more you act as their best friend, the lower the tips. Be thorough, but keep a bit of distance if you want higher tips. Most people aren't as comfortable tipping their friends.
posted by scrute at 12:12 PM on May 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

So I've been on a few of those kinds of trips as participant and you will not be able to make everybody happy all the time - so your goal is to make most people happy most of the time.

As long as you manage expectations and do your job well (you don't run our of fuel, get lost en route, run out of gas for cooking or groceries or worse, forget to tell them they won't be near a liquor store for the next 3 days so they can stock up and give them enough information about optional activities in good time so that those on a tighter budget can decide which 2 out of the 4 activities they want to do etc) you'll be fine.

Exactly what your groups will look for really varies with the groups - I have found myself travelling with people who'd rather stay by the pool on the camp site than hike the national park and with groups who were upset when they could not do a strenuous hike every day. Except that there is always a couple people who don't want the pool but the hike etc. So make sure they get to hike :)

You may also want to think about how you're going to cope with the downsides of that lifestyle. The one thing the guides I travelled with seemed to agree on is that you end up being pretty lonely - you'll meet 13 new best friends every few weeks and you're always on the move so it's difficult to stay close to your old friends. And they all said they were getting ridiculously tired with driving, setting up camp, partying until the early hrs and then having to get everybody up, packed and on your bus for an 8am departure the next day - your participants go back to sleep at that point, you have to drive 400 miles because if you don't the tour schedule will slip. From talking with guides who'd done this for a few years I also gather that especially in your first couple of seasons you get little say in the tours or your schedule so you find yourself finishing a tour on Friday and picking up the next on Saturday. Which didn't stop those guides from sticking with it for 5-6 years so clearly they found plenty to enjoy, too.
posted by koahiatamadl at 2:00 PM on May 26, 2012

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