Every year, over 1.4 billion people travel internationally. So, it’s no doubt that tourism is a booming business. Maybe you’ve thought about getting a piece of the multi-trillion dollar pie by becoming a walking tour guide.
But can you make real money this way?
The answer is yes, you can! In fact, private guides make anywhere from $20-$70 per hour depending on the length of the tour, the location, and the rating of the guide.
Let’s go into more detail about how you can make money, how you can earn top-dollar for your services, and if it’s worth it!
What is a Walking Tourist Guide?
A walking tourist guide is basically someone who gives a tour to people privately and (generally) on foot, as opposed to things like those fancy bus tours.
Most walking tourist guides are private guides, meaning they aren’t involved with some big travel agency or corporation. Another name for it is peer-to-peer touring, and it’s becoming increasingly popular.
A lot of people have started hiring private guides – locals who are experts in their city – to show them around because they can get a more personal, tailored experience with a specific focus that they enjoy, as opposed to a broad tour with larger groups.
Not to mention, most tour guides associated with travel agencies want to make sure their group gets to see all the touristy hot spots – no one wants to go to Rome and miss the Coliseum. But some people prefer to have the inside information of the best places to eat, stay, and see that only comes with genuine local know-how.
So, if you are knowledgeable, social, and don’t mind walking around for a few hours, then you might be the perfect candidate to make some extra money as a tour guide!
How To Make Money as a Walking Tourist Guide
Making money as a walking tourist guide is a relatively straightforward venture: get connected with travelers, set up a tailored itinerary, show them around on your tour, and get paid.
Of those, the hardest part is getting in contact with people who need a guide. So, let’s take a closer look at how to do that.
Connect with Travelers
You can’t give a tour if there’s no one to show around. So, naturally, the first (and most daunting) step is to get in contact with people who are planning on visiting your city and would like to be shown around.
Thankfully, there are websites out there that are designed to do just that. Some of those include:
While those websites – and most like them – have some form of application and vetting process, the general consensus is that it isn’t difficult at all to get accepted onto the platform and begin marketing yourself.
There are minor differences among them – some require you to make a set tour and market that, while others allow you to get connected with the travelers and really personalize your tour to their needs.
Ultimately, you’ll want to pick one that fits you and your desired time investment. Designing one set tour is less time consuming than spending your time getting to know your travelers and creating a new tour every time.
Pick a Niche
Another thing to consider when thinking about the types of tours you’ll give is choosing a specific niche that you’ll want to focus on. That niche should include two important things:
- Something you’re actually knowledgeable about.
- Something you enjoy talking about.
You should pick something you actually know about. Not only should you want to give someone a good experience, but most websites you can sign up for will offer the travelers a chance to review you.
If you’re able to bring your group of guests to the best places hidden to tourists (as well as impress them with some little-known facts), you’ll start racking up good reviews. That will, in turn, increase your visibility and chances of getting hired more frequently.
If, on the other hand, you get hired to show people the best nightlife scenes, and you’ve never gone outside after 6:00 p.m., you’re probably going to give them a less than stellar experience. And they’ll, in turn, give you a less than stellar review.
The same principle applies to your level of enjoyment on the subject. If you genuinely enjoy history, you’ll do a much better job at giving an entertaining tour of museums than if history was as boring to you as paint drying.
Both those aspects are crucial to giving a good tour, which is important because, not only can (and probably will) you get reviewed, but you can also make tips. And, if the whole point is to make money, then you want your tips to be as high as possible. And no one is going to tip for a terrible experience.
So, with that in mind, here are some popular niche ideas you might want to consider for your tour business:
- Food Tour
- Shopping Excursion
- Kid-Friendly Attractions
- Historical Places
- Nightlife Scenes
- Outdoors and Nature
- Unique/Odd Things
How Much Can You Make?
As you’ve probably started to gather, becoming a tour guide involves a higher level of time investment than some other side jobs. So, you’re probably wondering how well it will pay off.
Well, a lot of that depends on you, because most sites will allow you to set your own prices. But, to give you an example, it’s not unheard of for private guides to make upwards of $70 per hour.
To be honest, that probably won’t be you unless you’re in a big city and are one of the top-rated guides there. But the standard seems to be anywhere from $20-$30 per hour, which still isn’t that bad.
Plus, you could always charge per person. And if you get a large group, you could make a good amount of extra money wherever you are!
Another thing that affects how much you make is the percentage that the hosting site takes as their portion for hooking you up with your travelers. Some sites don’t charge at all, while others can take as much as 30%!
With that being said, you’ll want to take some time to look into the different options and, if there is a fee, price your tours accordingly in order to accommodate that.
What are the Startup Costs?
The startup costs for this type of a business are generally none. That’s because, like we’ve mentioned, most websites you’ll use just take their fee from your first payment.
There are, however, a few – like Rent a Local Friend – that charge an annual subscription fee (theirs is $100). So, if you decide to go for a site like that, that would be an upfront cost you’d have to consider.
Another thing that could potentially be a startup cost is if you are required to have a tour guide license by your local government. Most places don’t require this, but some – like New York City – do.
If you happen to live in a city that does require guides to be licensed, you’ll have to go through the application process, study, and pass the exams.
And they do cost money – to become licensed in NYC costs about $50 and a lot of time.
So, if you’re in that position, it might be worth it to consider a venture with less of an upfront commitment (like, say, selling junk batteries).
Pros and Cons
Before you decide on anything, we should weigh the good and bad aspects to see whether this business could be a good fit for you!
- You set your own prices and have control over how much you make
- You have flexibility
- Getting started isn’t very complicated
- It’s very time consuming
- Can be physically demanding
- Requires a high level of knowledge about your town or city
Alternative Business Ideas
There are lots of ways to make money as a tourist guide or within the travel industry in general. You’re really only limited by your imagination.
For example, if walking isn’t your thing, you could start a business where you take people off land and onto the water. Whether it be canoeing in a beautiful lake, stand up paddle boarding tours, or fishing tours.
Or if you want to keep the party on land, you could start a running group or cycling group, where you take people around the local area in a more upbeat, exercise focussed kind of way.
Another idea is to branch out from the physical side of things completely, and start your own travel agent affiliate business. That might sound like a big undertaking, but you might be surprised at how many people are successfully doing this, and how much room there is for new people to get started.
The good thing about this business idea is that it doesn’t cost much to start and there’s a lot more growth potential. It’ll probably take you awhile to get rolling, but once you do it’s a business you can really scale up. Since you are tapping into a much larger slice of the overall tourism pie.
Overall, being a walking tour guide is a good way to make some extra money if you have the time to get started establishing yourself.
If walking isn’t for you, you aren’t very social, or you don’t have a significant amount of extra time, then you might not be a good fit.
But, if you’re social, friendly, and genuinely interested in sharing your city with others from all around the world, then chances are you’d find success with this side job!