International travel is currently not an option for people who desire to do non-essential travel. But it doesn’t mean that domestic tours in open areas are banned totally. By “tours,” we don’t mean large groups of people in rented buses going to a museum, theme park, or zoo. In the new normal, tours would likely entail two to four people in a van or SUV (or even bikes and motorcycles), seated according to social distancing rules, and going to an outdoor destination where they can remain physically distanced while enjoying the view.
This is a scenario you can host yourself if you’re interested in becoming a freelance tour guide during the pandemic. Tour guide freelancing will be a cool side hustle if you need extra cash to augment your day job. If you’re currently unemployed because your company was heavily affected by the pandemic, you can do tour guiding full time—but on a freelance level.
What is Freelance Tour Guiding?
The basic difference between a freelance and permanent tour guide or tour escort is that the first doesn’t work for the tour companies. They are independent guides hired by the tour companies to carry out guiding duties for select tour groups. Tour companies often hire freelance guides when their in-house guides can no longer handle the volume of clients. Sometimes, companies hire freelance tour guides because clients love their presence and techniques, bringing in repeat business.
Benefits of Freelancing as a Guide
The top advantages of guiding as a freelancer are freedom and flexibility. You get to choose the tours you want to host and travel to the places you want to visit—at the cost of the tour company or your tour group. You’re not tied down to an office and can work with various tour companies or travel agents at the same time. If you have a primary job, freelancing will serve you better in terms of schedule. And if you plan to jump into tour operations as a business, there won’t be any conflict of interest.
How Can You Prepare for the Role?
Being a guide is not as easy as just signing up for the job. You need a few skills and resources to compete in the world of tour guiding or tour package marketing.
- Experience — Most freelance tour guides have worked the field for years as a permanent guide for a tour company. That’s where they got their knowledge, training, and lessons that prepared them for a freelance job. If you haven’t been a guide before, you need to do in-depth research or ask a veteran how to go about it. Or you may enroll in certificate courses that teach you how to be a guide.
- Network — If you’ve worked as a permanent guide before, you’d have acquired a long list of contacts and friends in the industry who can help you with logistics, such as transportation, accommodation, tour gear supplies (e.g., life vests, sports equipment, etc.), activities, and others. You need to have established a relationship with these providers and the tour company you plan to work with.
If you don’t have this network yet, but you’re an avid traveler, try to put together a solid collection of contacts and options that you can offer to your future clients. Befriend prospective contacts and do favors on the side (e.g., tipping restaurants during a visit, inviting friends to patronize a local shop). They will remember you for it when you return as a tour guide or operator, not just a tourist.
- Familiarity with the Tours — Before you promote yourself as a freelance tour guide, you must know the territory where you plan to work. You may offer your services in your own hometown or a city you often visit for vacation and which you fell in love with. Moving to the area of your tour operations is a good decision. If you don’t have a house there, find one you can buy or lease, even on mortgage financing, to use as your base. This will help you establish a better foothold on the local industry, especially if you plan to open your own tour operations business.
- Communication and People Skills — Of course, you’re fully aware that you’ll be doing a lot of talking and storytelling, so, by nature, you need to enjoy people’s company. You may get a degree in hospitality, human resources, tourism, or communications. The courses in these degrees help develop capabilities that will be important to your guiding career or side job.
You may also study languages to help you interact better with foreign tourists. As mentioned above, you can’t expect inbound international travelers in great numbers in the coming months, but local tourists of foreign nationality can benefit from your language proficiency.
Becoming a tour guide—specifically a freelancer—will be a fulfilling job for you if you love traveling and being around people. Ample preparation is necessary to make sure you succeed in it. These recommendations will help you learn the tricks of the trade.