Tour leader in the Mekong Delta.
I Get paid to travel the world, visit more than 30 countries per year, live in luxury hotels and on cruise ships when I work and I fly so often that the cabin crew often goes “Hi Claus” when I enter the flight cause they remember me from previous flights.
Well it is in many ways a really cool life and I can certainly recommend it if you like to traverse the globe non stop while getting paid.
But, there are some less appealing aspects of the job too and I will try to cover both the positive and negative sides of the job in this article as well as trying to give some guidance on how to get a job as a tour leader and what you should expect from it.
You get to fulfill peoples dreams.
On the Azores working
When people take a longer trip abroad it’s very often the highlight of the year for them and the fulfillment of a dream they have had for many years and if the trips runs well for them you will be there when they are really happy and visiting these places they have been dreaming of seeing since they were kids.
This is really cool when things go well but it can also be the opposite they get disappointed for one reason or another and this is where a good tour leader does everything possible to make the perfect trip for the clients.
It’s a trade where the client is not there for you, but you are there for the client.
I love when I walk down the street somewhere around the globe and people come running up to me cause they recognize me from a trip where I was there tour leader and they thank me again for the great trip they had.
This is something that happens to me a few times every year and one of the most rewarding aspects of being a tour leader.
You work with people from all over the world.
Vietnamese work college.
One of the aspects I like the most about being a tour leader is that I get to work with people from all sorts of cultural and social backgrounds.
Seeing that it’s possible to make things work and give people a great holiday despite all our differences is really great and I love the friends I have gotten around the world through the job.
I feel truly as a global citizen and there are few jobs where you have to deal more with modern day globalization than when you work in tourism and have to work one week in Brazil, the next week in Vietnam and quickly escort some people to Greece between these jobs.
You work 24/7 and you are never sick.
When you work as a tour leader you often have the sole responsibility of the group and you should expect the average working day to be around 14 hours per day and there are no days off before the group has gone home.
And these hours can increase if one of your clients end up in hospital or get robbed.
I have a few times over the years been in hospital all night with a guest and gone straight from the hospital to work the next day without any sleep and the clients who are not in hospital still expect to see a happy smiling tour leader who knows everything and can help them with anything.
If you have a flu or a cold or anything minor like that you go to work anyway and it’s only if you are hospitalized that you start calling the company and ask them to fly out some assistance to you unless you are so lucky that they have another tour leader nearby who can take over.
Being a tour leader requires very hard work ethics cause you are dealing with peoples holiday which is the highlight of the year for most people.
Forget about having children if you are a tour leader.
Now having said that I must admit that I know of a few people who manage to have kids back home but these people are blessed with a very flexible partner and most likely also a partner with a decent wage cause you will not get rich from being a tour leader and while I am not complaining about my finances I probably would complain if I had the outcomes that the average family with kids have.
Being a tour leader requires you to be full on from the minute you wake up to the minute you go to sleep so my advice to people who both want to work as a tour leaders and have kids is to work as a tour leader before you have any kids or wait until the kids are so old that they can take care of themselves.
And the tour leader gets all the girls right?
Another day at the office.
As a tour leader you are the center of attention and that can give you both some wanted and unwanted sexual offers.
But this is one field where you can really get in to trouble if you are not careful. Personally I stay away from any relationships with clients no matter what. Should I happen to meet Miss Perfect on a tour once then I will also stay away but contact her once the tour is over.
The problem is that if you as a tour leader is walking around and giving more attention to one person in the group than to the rest then you can be sure that the group will be very unhappy and most likely gang up against you and file a complaint to the company, especially if the reason is that you are having an affair with that person.
I have seen some cases where fellow tour leaders have gotten in to real big trouble because of that and I know several people who ended up losing their job because of it.
That does not mean I stay celibate when I work as a tour leader.
As a tour leader I work closely with local guides, hotel receptionists, hotel managers and such and there are some very nice girls working in the tourist trade and I have had my fun there more than a few times and I won’t die wondering. so don’t feel sorry for me cause I consider clients an absolute no go in sexual terms.
But always make sure to not let affairs or relationships on the road interfere with your professionalism at work.
While you are working the clients always comes first and both you and and your romances have to understand that or you won’t last very long in the business.
And the booze is free.
Now here is another thing that you need to think about if you want to be a tour leader.
As the tour leader you can mostly drink for free and there is almost always someone in the group who wants to buy you a drink.
Of all things in the life of a tour leader this is where I have seen the most people go down the drains and lose their job, or having to quit cause they couldn’t control it.
I am myself a very happy drinker and love my micro brews and my red wine but I barely touch it at work.
It’s only if I am doing a wine tasting or maybe I will have a last night beer with the guests at the end of a tour, but on a normal tour day I never drink.
This is partly because I love to go for a drink when I am off and I am not hiding it and you can find hundreds of photos on the web where I am having a beer in my hand and that can scare potential employers if they think you can not control your drinking.
Therefor I opt to not drink at work and I like to joke with that people who only know me from work think I am an alcoholics anonymous or a muslim while those who only know me from outside work think I am never sober.
But I strongly believe in keeping work and free time strongly separated when it comes to alcohol or you might very quickly find yourself in trouble, one way or another.
What qualifications do you need in order to be a tour leader?
When working as a tour leader you first of all need people skills as you need to get along with people from all walks of life.
Having a degree in something surely doesn’t hurt and it can give you a certain authority in some fields but I have personally managed to work several years as a tour leader on 5 continents without having any degree, so it’s not like it’s a must.
A first aid certificate can be very useful to have as some companies might require it.
I have never been asked for one, but I see some companies do that and it also help you a lot when clients start to faint and such and they do that fairly often when they are on holiday and you are responsible for getting them back on their feet and back on the tour.
You also need to be good in stressed situations and not panic just because a tyre blows on the bus while you drive 100 kilometers hour on the freeway or because you can’t get your clients back home because of strikes, protestors blocking their airport or because a volcano erupts and closes the airspace for several days.
I have tried all these things myself plus a few more and I am still here to tell the story so it’s possible to deal with these things as long as you stay calm and think fast.
But being able to stay calm and think fast is very important in this trade cause you will get in to plenty of situations you can never imagine or prepare yourself for but to me this is part of the charm in this job.
You have to be a good dictator.
You stupid tourists have to see The Iguace falls whether you like it or not 🙂
Like it or not, but as a tour leader you are a dictator and you better get used to it and get comfortable with it cause if you don’t then one of your guests will take the lead and become the dictator instead of you and then you won’t have long left in your job.
But remember that you have to be a good dictator that makes people happy cause it’s you who are there for the people and not the people who are there for you, so you have to come up with some orders that makes as many people happy as possible and makes the people who might not like your order understand why you had to give it.
The reason why I write this is because you need to have some authority when you are leading a group or they will start to feel that things are chaos and no one is in charge.
If you are not really sure whether you should turn right or left at the next corner with your group then never ask what they think.
If you do that you will most likely have a group of people who starts to argue and someone trying to take charge instead of you.
And even if 24 out of 25 guests agree on one thing then you can almost be sure that person number 25 will complain to the company cause they feel they were not heard and they will sometimes claim that this thing ruined the entire trip for them and you will be the one standing with the blame in this case cause you are the leader.
I have made the mistakes I mention here myself when I was new in the trade but you quickly learn that you don’t wanna make them too many times unless you like to get the blame for everything that went wrong on peoples holiday.
So try to listen to your clients as much as you can so that you can make the best possible decisions on their behalf, but remember to make the decisions for the group and o not leave it to other people as this is an essential part of your job and you won’t last long in the trade if you can not make decisions on behalf of a group and con vince the group right away that you have made the most wise decision.
A missing roll of toilet paper can turn a 5 star hotel in to an uninhabitable ruin.
As a tour leader you help your clients with all sorts of problems, big and small. The small problems are sometimes a little too easy to neglect though and that can turn them in to big problems if you are not careful.
Let’s say you have an old lady checking in to a very nice hotel but when she get’s to the room there is no toilet paper and the poor old lady is dying for a shit. This will most likely get her very annoyed and she will run down the reception and tell you to help her and you better do it right away cause if you tell her to wait a little then you might just forget it cause you have so many things to do as a tour leader and while she is sitting in her room and becoming more and more blue in her face from holding it in she will start to see everything that could possibly be wrong with that hotel and she will most likely complain to the travel agency about both the hotel and the tour leader when she comes home, all because she was getting annoyed while waiting for her toilet paper.
If you on the other hand solve the problem right away she is likely to take it all as a positive experience cause the tour leader was so fast to help her and you will have an easier client for the rest of the tour. This was toilet paper I mentioned here, but it could be other things as well.
I did for instance have a client to checked in to a 5 star Hotel in Singapore and demanded a new hotel an hour later cause the place was “an uninhabitable ruin”.
Once I calmed her down a little I found out that the reason why she was so upset was that there was not 2 free bottles of water in the room like she had at the previous hotel she stayed in Saigon.
A little chat and a visit to the 7/11 across the road calmed her down to a point where she could start enjoying Singapore.
What is the pay like?
Let’s be honest:
The pay almost always suck in this business. Tourism is a trade that people work in because they love it and are passionate about it cause you are unlikely to ever get rich in money terms. You get rich in so many other ways though and this is why we are so many people who don’t wanna work with other things.
But if you want to make money then you should look in to trading in something that is really boring so that you have less competition cause in tourism there is constantly new companies opening up and killing any price fixing that you see in most other trades and I actually think this is cool as this is what makes tourism the most vibrant trade in the world which is great if you put an adventurous life over earning big bucks.
Pay varies a great deal and some companies barely pay anything and you might have to start with these companies when you are new but once you get some experience then you should be able to save a bit of money up for further travels.
I currently work mainly for danish companies cause I am a native danish speaker and because the global crisis has not hit Denmark as bad as some other countries and I earn roughly 200 US dollars per day and have all expenses paid while I am on tour.
This is ok if you do not have mortgage back home and wife and kids but as I have mentioned before you better find a partner with a good job if you plan to be a tour leader while having a family life back home.
How do I get started as a tour leader?
Go and meet the world of tourism at a travel show.
If you are a guy then buy me 20 beers and if you are a girl then go in to a dard room with me and take you clothes off.
OK OK, there are several other ways t get started too 🙂
There are several ways to get started. One is to approach companies with job applications. Most companies will have a section on their website that tells if they currently need any staff.
I would strongly suggest that you write them even if they say they have no vacant jobs at the moment cause if they have an application from a qualified guide already then they are often not posting the job on their page.
I have personally found many tour guiding jobs while attending travel shows where I walk around and chit chat with various travel agencies and tell them that I am a professional tour leader and when I do that they usually ask for my card and within a few weeks I often get a mail from them asking if I am interested in working with them.
This is of course a lot easier once you are established but if you have a lot of drive then this is one good way to enter the world of tourism cause most owners of travel agencies are hyperactive types who love people who show initiative and don’t just sit around waiting for opportunities to be served on a silver tray.
That was my 10 cents about being a tour leader.
Feel free to contact me if you have any further questions and I will do all I can to help you if I can.