As a Part Time Vagabond, it’s likely that you’ve become an expert on all the fun, interesting things to do in your favorite destination. Between staycations, weekend getaways, and all the short trips you’ve taken, you could very well serve as the go-to tour guide in your area. You probably have friends and relatives who ask you “What’s good to do in town?” when they come to visit, and of course, you have a list of hotspots a mile long. If showing people around your favorite destination—while maybe earning a few extra bucks on the side—sounds good, here are a few steps to take before you dive in.
Sure, you’ve visited a whole variety of interesting attractions in your area, but what do you know about them? Can you answer even basic questions about that old mansion down the street? Do you know when the giant ball of yarn was completed?
By doing the research others haven’t, you position yourself to be the expert on the topic. And the more niche your topic of interest, the more likely you are to get enthusiastic people to take your tour.
And get to know your subjects. “I spent one Friday helping bottle and put together cases,” says Mark Stevens of MaineBeerTours.com. “I sat around and discussed 80’s hair bands over a pint at one brewery. Basically, I’d do whatever I could to gain the trust of the breweries, so they understood we were doing this to promote them first and foremost.”
Research will also help you find local ordinances or laws on leading tours, staying away from private property, and generally staying out of trouble. If you talk to your local chamber of commerce, you may end up with a great partner that will help your tour company grow. And while you don’t necessarily need to be a certified tour guide, becoming certified can put you a step above the rest.
Take existing tours yourself
Learn what you can from other tour operations in the area. Are they doing the same old thing? How can you differentiate yourself? What are they doing right and wrong? This is called market research, and you can also learn a lot about your area in the process.
Bring a recorder
Video and audio are not only great keepsakes for your guests, but they can also help you to market your business (on a website or social media), and they can help to improve your performance. Have an assistant come along to record your tours, then edit them into a nice package when you get back to the office.
Spread the word
Family and friends are a great way to get some word-of-mouth marketing out about your new enterprise. Not only can they be your first test customers (who can give you some feedback…but take it with a grain of salt, as they’re likely to be kinder than strangers), but they can help you spread the initial word about your venture.
Take those recordings you made of yourself and listen to them. At first, you’ll cringe at how you look and/or sound on those recordings, but after watching and re-watching, you’ll begin to see patterns in your tour emerge, as well as annoying habits and tics that you can eliminate. The important thing about being a good tour guide is having something interesting to say to your guests. This means that you must be a good storyteller.
The Boy Scout motto is a good one to keep in mind. Whether a guest asks you a tricky question, or someone twists an ankle, having the tools to deal with just about any situation is a good way to ensure that good sentiments are spread about your tours. Get first aid training, do your research about the locations on your tour, and most importantly, show your guests that you truly enjoy what you do, and your tour business will be a success.
Mark says, “Know your subject matter. You may have a script (we don’t believe in them), but being able to ad lib and provide extra insight and personal experiences is important. Engage your audience early and often. Making them feel like they are a larger part of the tour will ensure they have a very positive experience.”
Bonus Tip: Get Certified
In Maine, if you love the outdoors and know all there is to know about hunting, fishing, camping, or other outdoors skills, and you want to take things a step above hobbyist, you can become a Registered Maine Guide. There are courses available, and once you complete them and pass a couple of tests, you’ll be certified in the state of Maine to lead hunting, fishing, camping, or other types of outdoor trips. There’s even a professional organization for guides in Maine.
There are other ways to get certified as a tour guide as well. A quick internet search will point you in the right direction, but look for professional organizations rather than quick, fly-by-night websites. A good place to start may be an educational institution that offers courses in Tourism or Hospitality.