On this page, you will find frequently asked questions, as well as guiding job definitions and two articles written about the tourism industry.
Guiding Job Definitions
- A tour guide is an individual in a front-line position who leads participants (individual or groups) on tours, ensures that itineraries are followed, provides commentary in an informative and entertaining manner, and creates positive experiences for tour participants.
- There are three types of tour guides:
- Step-on guide: conducts tours and provides commentary while traveling on a vehicle
- Driver-guide: operates a vehicle while providing commentary
- On-site guide: conducts sightseeing and educational tours through a site of interest
- A tour guide may be also known as:
- Tourist Guide
- Tour Leader
- Docent (on-site volunteer)
- A tour director leads, accompanies, and assists participants on multi-day tours, manages arrangements and services, provides relevant information and commentary, and creates positive experiences for participants.
- A tour director may also be known as:
- Tour Manager
- Tour Escort
- Program Director
- Highway Guide
Frequently Asked Questions
This information has been designed to help those of you who are new to the guiding profession. Please feel free to contact Tour Guide Vancouver by either telephone or e-mail if you need further information.
Please read the above "Job Definitions" about 'guides.' In some of the answers below, the term 'guide' means a local step-on guide, driver-guide, on-site guide, or long-distance guide (Tour Director), etc.
Click the question below for the answer:
#1: To become a sightseeing guide, do you need to have a licence?
#2: Is it necessary to take any kind training to become a guide?
#3: If I find a job as either a local or long-distance guide, does the employer train me?
#4: In the Province of British Columbia, where can I get training?
#5: How do I become a local or long-distance guide?
#6: What is the pay scale like for a local or long-distance guide?
Question #1: To become a sightseeing guide, do you need to have a licence?
Answer: In Canada there are only two places that require a licence to provide a local sightseeing tour, in Montreal and Quebec City in the Province of Quebec. This is subject to change as other jurisdictions may implement similar requirements in the future. There is no where in the country where you need to have a licence to conduct a sightseeing tour between cities and towns (long-distance Tour Directing or multi-day trips or tours).
Question #2: Is it necessary to take any kind training to become a guide?
Answer: As mentioned above, only in Montreal and Quebec City, but we understand other cities may be contemplating introducing such a requirement. However someone who is new to this profession would find it difficult not to seek out some form of training before beginning. There is more to being a guide other than knowing what commentary to deliver.
Question #3: If I find a job as either a local or long-distance guide, does the employer train me?
Answer: Yes and no - depending on the company. Some will train you with the necessary skills and commentary and others expect you to not only already have the training, but to be experienced as well.
Question #4: In the Province of British Columbia, where can I get training?
Answer: There are some colleges or universities and some private trade schools that offer training in tour guiding (for both local and long-distance Tour Directing). In the Vancouver Yellow Pages look under the various listings of "schools".
Someone could also train by learning from an existing guide - if that person were willing to do that.
It may be possible to even find a few books available on the subject. One local book that deals with long-distance guides is called "Start and Run a Profitable Tour Guiding Business" by B. Braidwood, S. Boyce & R. Cropp -- 2nd edition, year 2000, through Self Council Press Business Series.
In the 1990's The Canadian Tour Guide Association of BC (CTGA of BC) helped to write a program on local and long-distance guiding / certification... For more information please contact "Go 2," the resource for people in tourism, in Vancouver BC at 604-633-9787, or visit their website at Go2hr.ca.
Being a Member of a guiding association or 'network,' such as the CTGA of BC, is another way to learn about what it takes to become a guide. With the number of members, meetings, events, guest speakers, seminars, newsletters, emails and field or Fam (familiarization) trips and tours to various venues that are offered, someone can learn a fair amount of information about becoming a guide and likely how to find employment.
Be sure to see the CTGA's "Next Meetings" page to gain a better perspective of the CTGA's activities. Visit them at ctgaofbc.com.
Question #5: How do I become a local or long-distance guide?
Answer: Please see Question #3, as well as the "What's a Tour Guide?" article located below.
Keep in mind that there are different types of guides and be sure to read the part about "Most tour guides work during the peak of the tourist season from May to October..." etc.
You need to figure out what kind of a guide you'd like to be. Or start off as one type of guide and proceed to become another over time and with experience. Sometimes in this profession, it's best to lay the groundwork out this year, start networking to learn 'the ropes', and then try to get working the following year (either part-time or full-time). Most employers start seriously looking at their needs of who to hire in January or February, but this is not always the case.
Local step-on guides usually also learn how to do "meet and greets" at airport, train, and cruise ship terminals plus convention centres. This is because there isn't always a steady flow of local tours, so also being able to work for one of the many DMC's, or destination management companies, helps to supplement a guides ability to gain additional work with visitors.
In the off-season, most guides take on other types of jobs.
To get a job as a step-on guide, you would need to network with other guides or contact a guiding association for further information. Unfortunately, you can't get much info from trying to 'look it up' in a telephone book.
Suppose you wanted to learn how to do a standard 'city tour.' You need to learn where the tourists like to go and how they get there (i.e. what route is most commonly taken by other guides)? What commentary is given from block to block, point to point. Before you let passengers go into an attraction, what is it they are going to see there, what background information should you give them? How much time is spent at this stop, etc?
Your employer will have certain rules and policies that they'll also want you to follow, especially about your appearance and type of clothing. This and much more knowledge of handling of people, communication skills, what do to before, during and after a tour plus many other topics is needed before you can start off.
Most large cities have at least a few companies that hire driver-guides. Some of these companies run year-round daily tours for individual tourists or those travelling in a group. In the lobbies of most hotels, or at a visitor information centre run by places like Tourism Vancouver or Tourism BC, you can find a selection of brochures from these companies.
These brochures list the various type's of local tours, when and where they go, duration and costs. Most companies that hire driver-guides will also help with the driver training, unless you already know how to drive a van, mini-bus or full size coach. Some will also help you with getting the correct class of drivers licence.
Work as a driver-guide tends to be very steady once the tourist season is under way.
To become a Tour Director for long-distance tours - while it isn't always necessary to first have been a local step-on guide, it's usually a good idea to have done this type of work first. Once you've learned to do a local city tour, it becomes much easier to learn to do the job of a Tour Director. A TD needs to know what commentary to give, how to run a tour that is stopping for sights, snacks, lunches and hotels, how to deal with the passengers, their luggage, the bus and the driver, checking into and out of a hotel, optional tours, paperwork and a list of other duties.
To get a better idea of how a multi-day tour runs, a day by day account, go into a travel agency and ask for a couple of different company brochures on bus trips that go to the Canadian Rockies or some other places of interest to you.
Those companies have set up the dates, route, some of the meals, the hotels and sometimes even the flights at the start and end of a trip. Then they either use their own drivers and buses and Tour Directors, or contract out to a bus company and a freelance TD.
Work as a Tour Director involves long hours and many days away from home. Many experienced TD's will no sooner end one trip, then go right out on another -- turning days away from home to weeks, or longer. Newer freelance TD's tend to receive a few tours for the season, till they become better known, however they can work for more than one employer which can increase the amount of trips. A newer TD who begins working for a company may or may not get a full set of tours or trips, it all depends.
In spite of the long hours and time away from home, the job is quite rewarding in many ways.
Whether working for a company or as a freelance TD, your meals and hotel accommodations are taken care of. If the trip starts or ends in a different city from your own, the flight is also looked after
Questions #6: What is the pay scale like for a local or long-distance guide?
Answer: This depends on many factors. A company will usually have a set pay scale (by the hour, day or type of tour / trip), but it usually includes different rates of pay for certain types of tours / trips, if a foreign language is to be spoken, years of experience, etc. Freelance guides negotiate their services based on many of the same things.
Driver-guides would learn their rate of pay during the interview process.
If you're working for a company, they'll deduct the usual federal taxes off your pay cheque, but as a freelance (or self employed) guide, you turn in an invoice and no federal deductions are made. To pay your taxes, you must hold back some of your earnings. You must also declare all of your earnings at federal tax time in April.
Once again, the information on this website, especially this page, has been designed to help those of you who might be new to the guiding profession. By all means, please feel free to "Contact Us" either by telephone or e-mail if you require further information.
Tour Guide Related Articles
What's a Tour Guide? - by Mary Stewart-Hazelton & Jeff Veniot
Tour guides are responsible for the care, education, and entertainment of tourists who want to experience and learn everything they can in a limited amount of time. A great tour guide never tires of visiting and talking about the same places day after day, no matter how many times they have done it before.
A tour guide has enormous curiosity, likes to research material and share what they have learned with others. A tour guide works out in the field, independent from the office, and must deal with a variety of personalities, problems and challenges.
Most tour guides work during the peak of the tourist season from May to October. That's why professional tour guides plan their finances to stretch over the 'low season' by seeking other temporary or seasonal work. Guides who work 12 months a year often move with the seasons or work for larger companies that offer tours in many parts of the country or the world.
Some tour guides are local; they remain within the city and provide tour commentary for that specific area. Other guides travel with their groups. Sometimes called a tour director, tour leader or tour manager, these guides stay in the same hotel, dine in the same restaurants and experience the same trip as their group.
Generally, no special licences are required to be a tour guide, except in certain US cities, Montreal and Quebec City. There, guides are required to pass a written test which covers all the facts about the sights of the city before licences are issued. The industry supports well trained guides throughout the entire tourism industry.
Guides: the face of the city - by Steve Braverman (Vancouver Echo; February 21, 1996)
The title on Jeff Veniot's business card doesn't just read "tour guide."
He also calls himself a "local historian" to discern additional job skills necessary for a front line worker in Vancouver's growing tourist industry that attracts thousands of curious travelers every year. Part ambassador and host, a good tour guide these days knows more than the mere location on the city's landmarks. The next challenge, explains Veniot (pronounced "VEE-no"), is delivering that information in the time it takes to drive by in a bus doing the speed limit.
"You have to know what's in Time magazine - and give the Reader's Digest version," he said during a sight stop near the Stanley Park totem poles on a West Coast City and Nature Sightseeing Tour that he guided.
And for his effort to make guests feel welcome enough to tell their friends what a wonderful city Vancouver is to visit, Veniot and more than 200 other tour guides in the province will be recognized today (Wednesday) as the city proclaims it International Tourist Guide Day. Members of the Canadian Tour Guide Association of B.C., including Veniot are giving away balloons and answering questions to the public in front of Canada Place from 9:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. to promote a profession that highlights many places and monuments most local residents take for granted unless experienced on an informative guided tour. And considering the unsettled Vancouver weather clouding over the spectacular scenery that usually speaks for itself, tour guides in this city are frequently pressed to hold their audience's attention with only the spoken word to colour a grey image.
"On your right is the Westin Bayshore hotel where Howard Hughes and company once rented a floor and stayed for six months," Veniot told a bus load of tourists. "Actually, it was one day less than six months, otherwise he would have had to pay residency taxes so he left."
These kind of trivial tidbits and historical facts often make the difference between a good tour guide and a bad one. They can also make the difference between a good and bad vacation memory that both have long-term economic spin-offs once word gets around back home. And judging by the tourists, Vancouver's reviews should be positive as far away as Australia when Sue Alexander completes her eight day vacation.
"I personally think it's important what tour guides do," said the Brisbane resident. "There are lots of things you can look at, but you don't know anything about them."
Renting a car rather than riding on a guided tour proved to be a frustrating and uninformative experience on a previous vacation in Orlando, Florida, says fellow Aussie Annell Scherrenberg. A third member of the Down Under delegation was impressed by Veniot's performance.
"He's casual and informative at the same time," says Anne Ward of Toowoomba in the state of Queensland. "But it's not like a recorded message. And I liked how he asked us all who we are and where we're from. We felt more at ease."
On the subject of recorded messages, foreign speaking travelers usually listen to a tour guide on tape if they don't speak the country's first language. Unless, of course, you're one of the many thousands of German tourists who visit Vancouver annually and take a tour conducted by West Coast guide Holger Bednarik. The tourism industry sophomore gets Europeans around the language barrier by doing a special tour in Deutsche.
"They love it," said Bednarik.
And that's the future of the tour guide profession in B.C., says Veniot, with an increasing demand for multi-lingual guides to make Vancouver visitors feel even more at home than they are already.