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What Makes A Great Tour Guide?

Last updated on March 18, 2020
9 minute read

Skill Level


It’s no secret that tour guides can make or break a guest’s experience. From the negative TripAdvisor reviews about tour guides who were rude or unprofessional to the social media selfies of happy guests with their tour-guide-turned-friend, who you choose to run your tours says a lot about your business.

As you’re searching for new tour guides, it’s essential to hire people who will give your guests the experience they deserve and will inspire travelers to come back for another tour or activity or tell their family and friends about your business. Whether you’re hiring new staff members to get ready for your busy season or you’re hoping to inspire your current tour guides to keep up the good work, this guide covers a few of the characteristics that make a tour guide stand out.

Read on for an in-depth look at what makes a great tour guide, plus tips on how to hire the best of the best for your business.

Qualities Great Tour Guides Should Have

Local Knowledge

Chances are, some or even many of the guests participating in your tours and activities are from out of town, and they may not know a lot about your area. Hiring tour guides from your town or city is a surefire way to add that dose of local knowledge to the tour experience. Locals (or even guides who have lived in the area for a while) offer tons of insights to guests, from recommendations on where to eat and stay to the Can’t-miss experiences around town. Local guides have so many tips, tidbits of information, and color commentary that guests feel like they’re truly getting the authentic experience they were looking for.

Storytelling Skills

Nobody wants to listen to a tour guide who sounds like they’re reading from a script. While the itinerary and route of your tour may be set in stone, a great tour guide covers all the important points while adding their own flavor to the dialogue. They ask and answer questions, engage guests in conversation, and have customers on the edge of their seats with their storytelling skills. A great tour guide weaves fun facts, points of interest, and local secrets into one memorable tour so that the guests do not feel like they are learning a bunch of facts, but rather that they are part of the experience.


Even if the tour covers serious topics or moments in history, guests still appreciate a tour guide with a bubbly personality and sense of humor. A great tour guide thrives on being the center of attention and captivates everyone in the group. A great tour guide can hold everyone’s attention, relate to all kinds of people, and keep the atmosphere friendly and fun throughout the tour, even in the event of problems like a bus breaking down or a scheduled attraction being closed.

Sense of Direction

If your tour guide is a local, they probably have this one down. Having a sense of direction isn’t just about being good at reading a map. Tour guides with a great sense of direction know all the little shortcuts and best routes through town, and they don’t get turned around in the event of a road closure or route change. When guests ask for directions to another location after the tour, tour guides with a great sense of direction are happy to help them find their way.

Cultural Sensitivity

If you often host guests from other countries on your tours, you likely encounter many different cultures within one tour group. The difference between a good tour guide and a great tour guide is that great tour guides are respectful of all different cultures and work hard to educate everyone in the group about the local culture. They make everybody feel welcome regardless of their background and create a dialogue around different customs and ideas.


Having a great personality is key, but a true passion for showing people around and highlighting all the amazing features of the area is what sets great tour guides apart. A tour guide who is clearly passionate about the industry goes above and beyond — they offer additional insights about the area or tour content, stay after to talk with guests and inquire about their trip, and go the extra mile to make a guest’s experience the best it can be. Passionate tour guides are the first to arrive and the last to leave.


Great tour guides are always on time. In fact, they’re early. Rain or shine, they’re ready to lead their tours with a smile on their faces, and they always show up when they’re expected to.

How Great Tour Guides Stand Out During the Tour

For most people, the quality of the tour guide is evident right from the start of the tour, when the guide makes introductions. A good tour guide will introduce themselves, but an outstanding tour guide takes the time to quickly memorize everyone’s names and learn a few things about them like where they’re from and why they want to take this particular tour or participate in this activity.

During the tour, a good tour guide points out all the important spots, while a great tour guide shows guests some lesser-known spots, the best places to eat, and interesting sightseeing spots that aren’t as populated. Even if the tour itself doesn’t cover every location, the guide mentions and points out some of their own must-see spots for tourists to visit later.

Throughout the tour, the average tour guide might fill guests in with some local knowledge, but an outstanding tour guide has traveled to other destinations around the country or world and can help guests identify what makes this particular destination so unique or special. A great tour guide is quick to offer local knowledge that takes guests away from the tourist hubs and gives them authentic experiences.

While a good tour guide may end the tour by thanking the guests for coming and reminding them to leave a tip, an amazing tour guide will welcome guests back, make recommendations for how they should spend the rest of their day, and ask for their feedback. A great tour guide wants to know how they can improve and what parts of the tour guests liked or didn’t like.

How to Hire Great Tour Guides

Hiring new tour guides for your busy season? It’s normal to feel a bit rushed, but with the right interview preparation, you’ll find some great new staff members in no time.

Keep the above qualities in mind during your search for new tour guides. If you need some more guidance, take a look at some of our favorite, fun interview questions to help you find tour guides with great personalities.

  • If you could travel to one place and why, where would you go?
  • Share an experience you had dealing with a difficult person and how you overcame that challenge.
  • What are some of your favorite lesser-known or off-the-beaten-path local spots?
  • What is your favorite aspect of meeting new people?
  • Share an example of a time that you went above and beyond what was expected of you.
  • How would you tell guests that a tour had to be canceled at the last minute?
  • What places around town would you recommend guests visit?

Hiring great tour guides is just one way to make your business stand out from the competition and garner good reviews from guests. For more tips to grow your business and other tour operator trends and advice, check out our business growth and industry insights guides.

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