When you think back to some of your most memorable travel experiences, chances are it involved a tour—led by a tour guide who really rocked his or her job.
From captivating the audience with great storytelling and hyperlocal insight, to being culturally and environmentally respectful, to ensuring guests always feel comfortable and safe, a great tour guide makes the difference between an "average" experience and a "I'm leaving this company five stars on TripAdvisor!" experience.
Whether you're a one-person show, a newcomer trying to land a job, a long-time pro brushing up on skills, or a CEO looking to provide employees with professional development tools, there's a number of options based on time, budget, location and learning method. Here are some of our favorite tour guide training and certification programs:
1. Be a Better Guide (online)
Cost: A mix of free and premium resources available
This is the brainchild of Kelsey Tonner, a veteran tour guide from Nova Scotia with close to a decade’s worth of in-field experience. In addition to helping tour guides all over the world create, sell, and market their experiences, Tonner's platform also provides coaching on delivering extraordinary customer service.
Tonner operates a YouTube channel with short, free tutorials, as well as loads of other free resources on his website including podcasts, PDFs and online workshops like this in-depth video that shows tour guides how to double their tips. For those looking for more comprehensive instruction, Tonner's video-based online training programs and custom-built training portals of the Be a Better Guide Academy are a worthwhile investment. Registration fees are based on the number of employee logins required.
For an idea of how different companies are directly benefitting from this program, check out Tonner's testimonials page. One compelling review points out that "after seven months in Lead Amazing Tours, we are number #1 on TripAdvisor, we get crowds of happy customers every day, and receive a steady flow of positive reviews."
2. Professional Tour Management Training (online)
Cost: e-book and personal assistance is $199.95. Online certification is an additional $100
For those looking for an online certification course, Cherie Anderson—an industry veteran with more than 20 years’ experience training tour guides—has a Tour Director Training Guide covering general procedures, safety, documentation, legal procedures, narration, handling emergencies/challenges and more. This is also a helpful resource for folks looking to break into the tour guide business, as Anderson has a lot of connections and is known to connect program graduates with hiring tour companies who reach out to her.
3. International Travel College (online)
Cost: Choose from three tiers of course packages ranging from $15 to $199
This New Zealand-based supplier of training courses for the tourism industry offers a comprehensive online tour guide training course, complete with lessons, several quizzes, stop & think exercises, and a final assessment. Topics covered include domestic & international tourism, types of attractions & activities, the tour guiding role, customer handling skills, public speaking, personal presentation and more. For an idea of what you'll get out of this, check out the
4. Tourism Tribe (online)
Cost: Network subscription starts at $199 annually
As an all-encompassing resource for tour and activity businesses, Tourism Tribe isn’t explicitly a training tool, per se, but subscribing to their network puts a number of helpful aids at your disposal. A subscription gains you access to countless tutorials and webinars, advice from leaders across the industry, and a link to more than 770 like-minded tour and activity operators. With features such as support forums and the Tourism Tribe Learning Center, your guides can easily navigate Tourism Tribe to pick up new tricks.
5. Travel Campus (school)
Cost: Varies depending on who you register with to take the course
A complete online travel and tourism training program that lets you study at your convenience. Travel Campus' courses are available through numerous educational institutions. To register, prospective students must enroll with one of Travel Campus' licensed travel partners.
6. International Tour Management Institute (school)
- Location: HQ is based in San Francisco, CA
- Cost: Total tuition for classes in the 2017 calendar year is $3,900
The first U.S. school designed specifically to train professional tour directors and tour guides, ITMI has been around since 1976 and has a 92% graduate job placement rate. Their 15-day Tour Director Certification Course is held in locations like San Francisco, Seattle, Boston or Washington, D.C. and consists of 40% classroom time and 60% field training.
7. International Guide Academy (school)
- Location: Courses offered in the Denver Metro area, Ft. Lauderdale, Minneapolis/St. Paul, Cuernavaca, Mexico, or aboard a cruise ship)
- Cost: Tour Director Course is $1,795 and Tour Guide Course is $795. Take two courses and receive a tuition discount. This means you can take the Tour Director and Tour Guide courses (when offered) for only $2590.
The International Guide Academy specializes in training and certifying professional international tour Directors and tour guides. They offer courses for those seeking to become a certified tour director or tour manager, as well as a course for people who want to work as a local tour guide.
8. WashingTours & Events (school)
- Location: Washington, D.C.
- Cost: Varies depending on seminar or workshop
Founded and led by Maricar Donato, an accredited trainer for tourist guides by the World Federation of Tourist Guides Association (WFTGA), WashingTours & Events offers a Professional Tour Guide Training Program and a number of seminars and workshops ranging from three hours to six days. Washing specializes in training aspiring and seasoned guides looking to improve their interpretive techniques and use of smartphone technology.
9. "How to Be a Tour Guide" (book)
Cost: Starting at $30 on Amazon
Nick Manning’s book "How to Be a Tour Guide" and the corresponding YouTube videos are a must. Beyond asking probing questions about what makes for a good tour guide, Manning believes there's no single correct way to run a tourism-driven business. One chapter, for example, delves into the different personalities tour guides can take on, such as “The Party Hardy Guide,” “The Friend,” or “The Local,” steering readers towards the proper personas depending on businesses type and targeted demographics. Both Manning's book and his online tutorials are practical, helpful, and easy to read or watch.
10. "How to be an Award-Winning Tour Guide" (book)
Cost: Starting at $24 on Amazon
Written by award-winning tour operators and tour guide trainers, this book combines 40 years’ collective insight on how to deliver a quality visitor experience. One reviewer described it as easy-to-read, fun, educational, personalized, conversational, humorous and full of photos taken by the authors in real-life situations. The book is designed for aspiring guides, those already working in the industry and wanting to brush up their skills, educators, students, and anyone considering starting their own tourism business.
11. "Coming Up on Your Left" (book)
Cost: Starting at $15.99 on Amazon
Authored by international tour director Joemy Wilson, "Coming Up on Your Left" is a collection of amusing stories and insightful anecdotes culled from the author’s 12 years of experience directing tours. While not a how-to guide, the book is a great ancillary addition to a more intensive curriculum and a perfect way to get your tour guides talking about their own personal experiences within the industry.
Cost: Starting at $15.99 on Amazon
Lance Camarena was the Director of Training & Development for Holland America Line for over 10 years, so he knows a thing or two about the tour business. He went from training ship staff on the cruise line to helping Holland America’s tour guides directly, all the while taking notes (from the back of the bus, as the title implies) that would form the bulk of this comprehensive guidebook. In these pages, he takes readers chapter by chapter through the process of giving great tours, with advice on myth building, entertaining, tour variety, and inviting repeat business.
Now that you're armed with an arsenal of resources for becoming a better guide, time to get back what you've invested! Check out this guest post from our pal Kelsey Tonner, founder of Be A Better Guide: