Top 10 Characteristics of a Great Tour Guide

September 29, 2011 by

Best of the Viator Blog, List Mania: Viator's Top Picks, Travel Advice & Inspiration

You could be standing inside a 12th-century French chapel, surrounded by rare stained-glass windows created for a king; the architecture is astounding, but if you don’t know what you’re looking at, its history and relevance, which king, why and when, you’ll be missing out on so much.

A great tour guide makes history come alive

In order to get the most out of a visit to a significant site, it all comes down to information and communication – in other words, the quality of your tour guide. Here are our top 10 essentials for a great tour guide.

1. Understandable

Ideally, your tour guide should speak a range of languages, including your own, as well as the local lingo. They should also speak clearly, audibly and with confidence. Depending on the type of tour, you might be asked to wear earphones or use other types of audio equipment.

A great tour guide can explain information in a few different languages

2. Punctual

Your tour leader should be waiting for you when you arrive, rather than the other way around. Ideally, they should also ensure that other tour members arrive and depart on time, and don’t cause delays for the group as a whole.

3. Friendly

A relaxed and friendly manner is key to a great tour guide. They also need to have a certain level of authority, and be able to keep tour members together and focused without coming across as intimidating, patronising or arrogant – not a good look in a tour guide.

4. Knowledgeable

A great tour guide has fun, too!

A good tour guide has an in-depth knowledge of the site, its history and importance. A great tour guide has a passion for their subject and can convey their enthusiasm to the group. Such passion can be contagious and inspiring, and make the site really come alive. Being able to convey a sense of the overall cultural background is also important, as it can greatly enhance each tour member’s overall understanding of the site as a whole.

5. Engaging

Great tour guides share their knowledge in an engaging, illuminating and entertaining way, rather than repeating a list of facts by rote.

6. Interactive

Effective tour guides also invite questions and interaction from tour members, rather than treating the tour as a one-person show or a ‘be quiet and listen’ school lesson.

7. Funny

A certain level of friendly humour is essential. Equally, a good tour guide also knows when to include a little quiet time, and when to let the site speak for itself.

8. Observant

The tour needs to be relevant to a broad range of people, including different age groups. A good tour leader also needs to be aware of tour members with special needs.

9. Good Pacing

Whether the speed of the narrative or the pace of a walking tour, it should be neither too fast nor too slow. Like Goldilocks, it should be just right.

10. Flexible

When appropriate, a flexible approach can make the difference between a good and a great tour guide. Being flexible means being open to serendipity, taking a moment to enjoy spontaneous moments like a particularly perfect sunset.

-Viator Travel Team

Planning a trip? Learn more about guides on our blog or book a private guide for a customized tour in your destination!

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2 Responses to “Top 10 Characteristics of a Great Tour Guide”

  1. sinalo Says:

    if all tour guides can use these skills South Afirican tourism industy can go far.

  2. Mugera Henry Says:

    How can one posses all the 10 qualities?

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