Is Tour Leading for You?
Yes, my job is awesome, but let’s get something out of the way right now. The clients are on holidays, you most certainly are not. Most days you will be up with the sun, meeting the clients at breakfast with a smile on your face (bad luck if you’re not a morning person, you are now) and some nights you will be in bed by 3am (especially if you’re in your first job) as you’ll be out entertaining the clients or up doing paperwork. If you want to become a tour leader, power to you, however it does pay to be well informed so I wanted to provide an honest insight as to what the job is really like. If you’re still interested at the end, make sure to see my blog on How to become a tour leader.
You are with the clients 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. If you have a difficult client you are stuck with them, you cannot get away. Some operators make you share a room with a person of the same sex (something I wholeheartedly disagree with – after all you are working) – this person might be the difficult customer and no one else wants to share with them and you will have to take on for the team. It might be a 53 day tour, imagine your mental state at the end of 53 days of dealing with a difficult customer you can’t get away from.
Only you know how you will handle this situation and indeed IF you can handle such a situation.
On occasion you may need to lead “blind tours.” What this means is leading an itinerary which you have not experienced, in places you have never been. You will need to do your research, so you can pretend you have. I speak from experience when I tell you, DO NOT TELL THEM YOU’VE NEVER DONE THIS BEFORE, if you do this, they will not listen to a word you say for the rest of the trip and believe me you need them to listen to you. You need to carry on through the itinerary with a smile on your face and act like you know exactly what you’re doing. Although scary, blind tours can be great, this is after all a great way to expand your horizons as a tour leader and if nothing else experience another destination and get paid for it. To read about a day in the life of leading a blind tour, have a look at this entry from my diary.
Chance are you’ll be working with local people on a day to day basis – this can be both wonderful and frustrating. These are a few examples of things I’ve encountered.
- My first gig was for a company in Turkey – during the training where we had a wonderful driver who was employed by the company and spoke reasonable English, the drivers we were given for our own tours were contractors who did not know the route, spoke no English, frequently got lost and wouldn’t listen to western tour leaders even when directions were given in Turkish!
- I had a guide in Beijing tell me that, Yes she has the train tickets for our next stop when I asked. Then before departing for the train station after our Great Wall tour, lean over and ask me “You have ticket yes?” You will need to try to think ahead of stupidity and negligence like this. On the flip side, the Kyrgyz guide I work with is amazing and while I’m in Kyrgyzstan I’m practically on holiday with the clients as he can be trusted to just do his job. He goes over and above and takes care of everything.
- A local operator forgets to pick someone up for an optional excursion you have booked them, you now need to spend your only free time trying to organise for this person to get out to Pamukkale from Kusadasi in Turkey. The operator is located in the hotel you are staying in, the manager of the operator and the manager of the hotel end up in a fist fight over the situation, throwing pool furniture at each other. You now need to defuse the situation and some how make it up to the few clients who have witnessed the madness.
- The office and your manager, most of the time your superiors and all people who can help you are in another country, and sometimes four or five timezones away. You need to be able to make difficult choices with out someone else telling you how to proceed.
The pay is usually erratic, although this does depend on the company as to how erratic. I’ve never worked in a position where I’ve been paid on a regular basis, i.e monthly, weekly etc. Most companies pay on a per tour basis, I had one who paid quarterly which is about as regular as it gets! Some companies can also be a bit shady on the pay front, if the company is not doing so well they may institute a pay freeze until they get paid for some major bookings, before they can pay all their tour leaders. Questions about the pay are good to ask at the interview stage to see if you can feel the company out a bit, if this is even a possibility don’t sign up.
The pay is also VERY low. You can expect to get a daily rate, usually of about $30USD per day, don’t panic though as everything is included. Accommodation, food (if they look after you they will give you an allowance), phone. The best way to look at it is, take your salary now – deduct your rent, phone, food, electricity, gas, water, transportation – what you have left over is your spending money right? Well this is roughly what you will have in your pocket when tour leading, with all the other expenses generally taken care of.
This can be very telling so pay attention. Just after I accepted a position in Africa, in the 2 months before I started the process changed so many times I lost track of what was actually going on, to the point where as I was boarding the plane to Nairobi receiving another email telling me the plan for collecting me from the airport and taking me out to the safari vehicle had changed yet again – obviously this should have rang all sorts of alarm bells and within a few days on the road it was abundantly clear that this company had no idea what they were doing and actually put my life in danger a few times. This is just one example, other things to watch out for are, not being able to give you a straight answer about anything, dodging questions about salary, taking forever to get anything done and last-minute recruitment.
This will depend on the company. Most of them will ask you to pay a bond for your “training trip” and when you have completed a certain amount of service with the company this will be refunded. You may thing this is unfair or even unethical, however companies have introduced this to prevent people from signing on, getting their free training tour and then disappearing. The training itself is likely to be hardcore, especially if you are with a youth operator. It’s like you’re on survivor – and yes if you fail the training, most of the time you don’t get the job and you get dumped in the country where they have decided you have failed. Make sure you have a backup plan for moving on or getting home. Other companies do self-training, or a ride along – where you go on one of their tours with an experienced leader to learn from them. In my opinion, this is by far the best way to train a tour leader.
If you’re still reading I assume you’re still interested. The actual job is amazing, you will get paid to go sightseeing, you will on occasion be getting paid to party, you will get paid to go out and try amazing food…and best of all you will get paid to watch the expression on someone else’s face when they see the wonder you’ve seen and that’s where the job satisfaction comes in. This is an entry from the diary that will show you how amazing it can actually be. Click Here.
And finally - here is a link to one of my diary entries about the very first tour I ever ran - You know, just to completely terrify you.
If your still interested see the companion blog – How to become a tour leader