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Chapter 1 What is tour conducting?

Chapter Objectives

After reading this chapter, you should be able to:

* Define key terms commonly used in the tour industry.

* Explain why people take a tour. Identify for whom tour guides and tour managers generally work.

* Appraise the attraction of tour conducting as a career.

* Identify the disadvantages of a tour-conducting career.

* Explain what roles others play in a tour company's operation.

* Profile the "typical" tour manager sought by tour operators.

* Discuss which personality traits can undermine a tour conductor's success.


Tour conducting"--to some the term inspires visions of glamour and adventure. To others it suggests a unique way to see the world, and get paid to do it. That old 1969 movie, If It's Tuesday This Must Be Belgium, gathers together many of the more appealing preconceptions: it depicts a dashing, charming escort who, calmly and easily, guides a congenial, slightly eccentric group of tourists across the face of Europe.

The mental image that most people have of tour conductors is quite similar to the picture the movie industry typically paints. Yet just a little more thought suggests that there can be a downside, too: lost luggage, overbooked planes, overwrought clients. To lead a tour can be a delight, but it can occasionally become a trying experience. It is often a well-paying job, yet at the same time it is a demanding career. Without question, though, to be a tour conductor is to be in one of the most exhilarating, potentially rewarding, and intensely sought-after positions in the travel industry, and to work in any capacity at a tour company often leads to genuinely creative and satisfying experiences.

The Tour Industry

As we journey from place to place, it's easy to underestimate the complexity and scope of the travel industry. Yet in the United States alone, travel generates nearly $500 billion in revenues yearly. That's equal to the combined sales of Exxon, Ford, IBM, and Sears.

But what of touring itself? According to the National Tour Association (NTA), group travel represents about 4 percent of consumer travel. That may sound insignificant until you consider that travelers from the United States and Canada spend over $11 billion yearly on tours, and according to the U.S. Travel Data Center, one out of every five persons who takes a trip of five nights or more does so through a packaged tour. Expand these statistics to a worldwide perspective (group travel is often more popular abroad than in the United States), and you begin to perceive how vast an enterprise touring really is.

Furthermore, surveys indicate that group travel is accelerating at a pace that outstrips that of the general travel industry. According to the NTA, consumer spending on group tours is increasing at about 15 percent yearly. The NTA's roster of members has swelled to more than 600 tour companies, all of which anticipate even greater tour activity ahead. As the post-World War II baby boomers reach their middle years, the traditional tour consumer segment, those people over fifty, is increasing dramatically.

But is the vision of slow, absent-minded, polyester-clad, senior-citizen tour groups an appropriate one? Hardly. Today's seniors are often the most energetic and adventuresome of tourists. Although the view of a fifty-plus tour market is valid (about 75 percent of the NTA's customers are retired and over fifty), it's also a bit deceiving. Increasingly, the tour marketplace is diversifying. There are now student camping tours, 1,000-mile bicycle excursions, UFO tours out of Las Vegas (looking for them, not riding them ...), and even nostalgic bus tours for aging hippies.

Why Take a Tour?

Not everyone is a candidate for a tour. In fact, some people don't like the notion of tours at all. They perceive touring as an unpleasant form of travel, with limited freedom, forced companionship, and uncomfortable bus rides. They prefer--indeed, enjoy--controlling their own travel experience rather than having someone else doing it for them.

Yet many others actively seek out a tour experience. Every year at least 11 million Americans choose group travel. Why do they favor tours?

The Freedom from Hassles and Decision Making

"When I'm on vacation I don't want to worry about anything," is a comment commonly heard from tour participants (also called tour members, passengers, or clients). Indeed, travel (which comes from the French word for work) can be an exhausting task. Tours help cushion clients from hassles. A good tour leader solves problems long before tour members can become aware of them. To the average tour participant, the feeling of being pampered and catered to more than offsets the regimentation of group travel.

The Desire to Save Time and Money

Everyone has experienced how a wrong turn on a highway or an ill-chosen hotel can spoil a vacation. A well-designed and conducted tour minimizes wasted time; it ensures that the client sees all the essentials in a convenient, efficient manner. Furthermore, the group purchasing power of a tour company yields substantial savings on hotels, meals, and attractions. Part of this savings is absorbed into the tour operator's profit, but much of it is passed on to the consumer. The result: tour members enjoy a more upscale travel experience (better hotels, for example) than they could usually afford. And because the price of a tour includes most travel components, clients know and pay for most of their vacation costs before they even leave home.


Don't conclude, however, that just because tour clients seek value, they are a low-income group. In fact, quite the opposite is true: overall, escorted tour clients possess a higher yearly income, spend more on each trip, and take more trips than their counterparts who do not take tours.

The Companionship of People with Similar Interests

Several surveys have indicated that people who avoid tours sometimes fear they will have little in common with their fellow travelers. As those who frequent tours know, this is rarely the case. Most often, the price of a tour, its destination and its activities will automatically predetermine the socioeconomic level and interests of group members. It's no accident that long and deep friendships are often forged among the participants in a tour.

People with plenty in common are certainly found on those tours that are custom-designed for clients with special interests (for instance, skiing, shopping, wine tasting, ecotourism, astronomy, ballooning, bird watching) or even for specific clubs, schools, religious groups, or corporations (often called affinity tours). Some of the most intriguing successes in the tour business today are tours that are highly specialized and that target "niche" or specialty markets. One Los Angeles company, for instance, creates tours for insomniacs: the group sight-sees all night and sleeps during the day. Another pulls together geologists on a moment's notice to visit erupting volcanoes. In fact, the modern touring phenomenon has its roots in affinity travel. Thomas Cook, a British travel pioneer of the mid-nineteenth century, organized his first group departures for prohibitionists who wished to attend faraway temperance meetings.

The Educational Nature of Touring

Without a guide (or at least a guidebook) the Forum in Rome is little more than an accumulation of pillars, stones, and rubble. On a tour, however, it becomes a place alive with the imagined footsteps of Caesars, senators, and centurions. A well-trained tour guide or escort can comment on almost anything: history, geography, architecture, trees, bushes, birds--whatever merits the kind of insight that the average tourist craves but can seldom achieve on his or her own. Indeed, one recent poll indicates that 84 percent of tour travelers rated "learning" as the most important component of a tour, and nearly half of those polled expressed an eagerness to share what they learned with their family and friends upon returning.


The Lack of Alternatives

In rare situations, all travelers perceive a tour as the most appropriate choice. For example, tour operators sometimes corner all hotel space close to some special event, such as Mardi Gras, a world's fair, or the Rose Bowl. The only way for the average consumer to obtain lodging is to book a tour. Such strategies pay off doubly for the tour company. It profits financially, and tourists who were previously reluctant to take a tour are often pleasantly surprised and become converts to group travel.

A traveler who perceives a destination as especially strange, foreign, unfriendly, or even dangerous will also find comfort in the notion of a tour. The great majority of tourists who visit Kenya, China, or Russia, for example, do so as part of organized groups. Those who are physically challenged often travel as groups, too, knowing that the specialized tour company that planned their trip has already thought out wheelchair obstacles, elevator access, and the like.

How People Buy Tours

Tour operators make their product available to the public in two distinct ways. They may advertise a series of tours, with departures occurring on a regularly scheduled basis. For example, a company may schedule weekly, seven-day motorcoach tours of New England, departing from Boston every Sunday from late May to late October. The consumer finds out about it from the company's brochures, catalogues, Web site or newspaper advertisements, and then books the date he or she wants. Tickets are purchased either through a travel agent (who may even have recommended the company and tour in the first place) or by communicating with the company directly. Of course, if the tour doesn't fill, the company may cancel that departure and try to shift the client to another departure.

Tours offered to the public in this manner are often called public or per-capita tours. On the other hand, tour companies also sell tours to preformed affinity groups. One option is to set aside one of their regularly scheduled departures for a specific group. The tour operator may also create a customized itinerary for them, at a special price. Such tours are usually called customized or charter tours.

A customized tour is rarely advertised outside the group. Instead, potential tour participants find out about it via flyers, a meeting, word-of-mouth, or an organization's newsletter. They can then buy the tour in a number of ways. They may call the tour company and identify themselves as members of the group, book it directly through their organization, or sign up directly through the person in the organization who has spearheaded the trip (a teacher at a school, for example).

Types of Tour Guides

To the public, the generic term "tour guide" suggests almost any person who leads an organized group of people, whether for an hour through the halls of the Taj Mahal, for a week on a boat down the Amazon River, or for a month on a motorcoach tour across the United States. In the travel industry, however, the term "tour guide" has a very precise meaning: a tour guide is someone who takes people on sightseeing excursions of limited duration. There are many kinds of tour guides.

Specifically, an on-site guide conducts tours of one or several hours at a specific building (such as St. Peter's in Rome), attraction (such as Disneyland), or limited area (such as the Kennedy Space Center in Florida). In the travel industry, all such sites are often referred to as attractions. The tour may be given on foot or in some sort of vehicle (e.g., the trams at Universal Studios).

On-site guides rarely make much above minimum wage. At museums they often work free of charge. These volunteer (and usually well-informed) museum guides are called docents. Two kinds of on-site guides often do make fairly good salaries: those employed by the government (e.g., park ranger guides) or by corporations (e.g., those who give a tour of a factory).

A city guide points out and comments on the highlights of a city, usually from a motorcoach, minibus, or van, but sometimes as part of a walking tour. A city guide who does double duty by driving the vehicle while narrating is often called a driver-guide. Another type of city guide is the personal or private guide. Common in developing countries, where these services may be available at a reasonable price, private guides take a small number of individuals on their own exclusive tour. These guides often are taxi drivers and use their taxis as sightseeing vehicles.


Though they rarely spend more than a day with any group, city guides often need to have a considerable amount of accurate information about the municipality in which they work. For this reason, they're sometimes tested and licensed by a local government agency.

A specialized guide is someone whose expertise or skills are highly unique. For instance, adventure guides lead unusual, physically demanding tour experiences (e.g., diving, white-water rafting, safari, or trekking). Another example is Egyptologists on Nile cruises, who have highly specialized knowledge of the history, art, and culture of that country.

Guides can work for large local tour companies (such as Gray Line), for cruise lines (on a type of tour called a shore excursion), or for ground operators (also called land operators or receptive operators), which provide vehicles and other limited services to outside tour companies. Many guides, however, operate independently. Tour groups visiting from other regions hire them as freelance "specialists" who come aboard their motorcoaches to give an informed overview of the city to be toured. Such freelance guides are usually called step-on guides. City guides, adventure guides, and personal guides tend to be better paid than on-site guides, though their salaries can vary considerably from place to place, company to company, or situation to situation.

Tour Managers

Tour guides are a little like good teachers: they deliver information in an accurate and engaging fashion. On the other hand, a tour manager--a person who manages a group's movements over a multi-day tour--is part psychologist, ombudsman, diplomat, scout leader, flight attendant, entertainer, news reporter, restaurant critic, efficiency expert, and orator. In certain situations, tour managers may even be expected to be translators, detectives, mind readers, and miracle workers. To be successful at this job is no easy achievement. The rewards, however--both personal and financial--can be sizable.

Not too long ago, tour managers were more commonly called "tour escorts." The term is still in use, but not greatly in favor--the fear being that confusion could arise in the public's mind between these travel professionals and those working for dubiously named "escort services." Among the other terms used to describe a tour manager are tour leader, tour director, tour conductor, and, in Europe, tour courier. We will be using these terms interchangeably throughout the book. Note that a few companies, such as Collette Tours, even prefer to call their tour managers "tour guides" to stress their employees' sightseeing commentary skills.

Employers of Tour Managers

Tour-manager employment is even more diversified than that of tour guides. Tour conductors can be attached to any of the following.

Tour Operators

Tour managers are most commonly employed by tour operators (also called tour companies, tour packagers, tour brokers, or wholesalers). Tour operators contract with hotels, restaurants, attractions, airlines, motorcoach operators, and other transportation companies (or carriers) to create a multi-day tour "package." They then sell the tour to the public, either directly or through travel agents.

Travel agencies especially like to sell tours, since they can make a commission on most of a client's vacation activities (even meals) with minimal arrangement hassles. In some cases, travel agencies promote and plan their own group departures, becoming tour operators as well.

Inbound and Outbound Operators. An inbound tour operator is a subcategory of tour operator who specializes mostly in groups arriving in a specific city, area, or country. For example, Allied Tours, American Tours International, and GoAmerica Tours are all United States companies that sell tours abroad through their own branches or through those of other companies. Once a group from, say, Argentina arrives, all of its needs in the United States are serviced by the inbound operator (who in turn often works with a local ground operator). Inbound operators favor tour conductors who are fluent in a foreign language.

An outbound operator, another subcategory of tour operator, takes groups from a given city or country to another city or country. For example, Donna Franca Tours of Boston regularly transports groups of Americans to Italy. Occasionally, its tour managers accompany the groups from Boston to Rome. More typically, Donna Franca has bilingual tour conductors stationed in Italy who greet the group upon arrival. Outbound tour operator practices vary enormously. Some companies send escorts with the groups, others station them at the destination, and still others contract with inbound operators at the destination and rely on the inbound company's tour leaders.

Motorcoach and Intermodal Operators. Another way to slice the tour operator pie is into motorcoach and intermodal companies. Motorcoach operators create tours, usually of about a week's duration, that transport group members via motorcoach to their destination and back. Well-known motorcoach tour companies, such as Tauck World Discovery of Westport, Connecticut, operate their North American packages primarily as motorcoach tours. Clients might meet up with their group in New York City, for example, from which Tauck's chartered motorcoach will take them on through scenic Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Vermont, and on up to Montreal and Quebec City. For other North American destinations, Tauck will use such "gateway" cities as Calgary, Honolulu, New Orleans, and Salt Lake City as the start points for their tours. Although Tauck does include flights on some of its itineraries (e.g., to Europe or Hawaii), more typically it is left to the client or travel agent to book a flight to the "gateway" departure city.

Since motorcoach tours sometimes involve long stretches of travel, operators who specialize in them favor tour leaders with considerable entertainment skills. In Europe, where motorcoach tours are especially popular, escorts who also act as tour guides are quite common.


Intermodal operators combine several forms of transportation, such as plane, motorcoach, ship, and rail, to create a diversified and efficient tour package. Increasingly popular, these kinds of tours appeal to the desire of a traveler to "get there." Intermodal operators tend to downplay the role of motorcoaches in their packaging. Several studies have shown that an aversion to bus transportation is the single most important factor that prevents clients from taking a group tour, despite the comparative luxury of modern motorcoaches.

Other Employers of Tour Managers and Guides

Tour operators aren't the only type of travel-related operation to employ guides and tour managers. Among the fastest growing employers of tour leaders are incentive houses. An incentive house (which is, in effect, a specialized tour company or is a division of a large travel agency) will approach a corporation with an overall strategy to boost sales, service, or efficiency by providing some sort of reward or incentive to the corporation's most productive employees. The most popular type of reward is travel, since it can be shaped into group departures that reinforce company spirit and networking.

A national insurance company, for example, might fly all its agents who reach a certain predetermined sales level to Hawaii for a week, at company expense. (In reality, the increased sales that the incentive program has generated pay for the trip, provide the incentive house's profits, and generate higher revenues for, in this case, the insurance company.) Several people, of course, have to coordinate and host these group movements. For this purpose, incentive houses sometimes use their own planning staff. But, increasingly, they are hiring trip directors to do the job. A trip director is a sort of "super escort" who not only deals with traveling clients, but also is an essential player on the incentive company's pre-trip planning team. American Express Incentive Services is one of the largest incentive houses.

Tour conductors can also find employment with receptive operators and all sorts of specialized tour companies, including those who offer student-study educational tours or adventure tours (such as raft trips, hiking expeditions, and the like). Tour leaders for specialized affinity groups are often professionals in other fields--teachers, members of the clergy, or activity experts--who conduct the group for pleasure and a free trip. In some cases, a teacher will organize and escort a group departure for his or her students.

Banks--especially those in the South and Midwest United States--also frequently organize tours for their customers. In some cases, the bank staff member who is in charge of its travel program will escort the group. In other cases, the bank will contract with a tour operator to run its group departures. In such a situation, the tour company's tour conductor will manage the group, with a bank employee helping out.
A special kind of tour, the independent or freelance tour, bears
examination, despite the fact that no escort is involved. In this
type of package, a client purchases air, hotel, and attraction
admissions and, typically, a car rental, for one price. The client
does not travel with any group. (This kind of tour is also
sometimes called an FIT. No one seems to agree, however, on what
those three letters stand for--only that it means a
custom-designed, prepaid travel package with individualized

For instance, a traveler who wishes to visit Hawaii can buy a
seven-day package from Pleasant Holidays that includes six nights
at the Sheraton Waikiki, air transportation to and from Honolulu,
transportation between airport and hotel (called a transfer), a
one-day car rental, and miscellaneous services (such as a lei
airport greeting) for one reasonable price. The independent tour
appeals especially to travelers who wish to have minimal
regimentation yet want access to the efficient, bargain-priced
packages that powerful volume group operators can offer. The
introduction of this form of travel represents a major marketing
success. In Canada and the United States, independent tours outsell
escorted tours four to one.

It's common today for a tour operator to offer all three forms of
group-generated travel to consumers. This strategy enables a
company to reach several major segments of the traveling public:
those who enjoy the leisurely, scenic pace of motorcoach tours;
those who enjoy the group travel experience but find motoring to a
destination via bus to be a dull waste of time; and those who don't
like group travel at all but seek the volume prices and preplanning
that tour companies can provide to independent travelers.

Meet-and-greet companies may hire guides, escorts, or other "greeters" to be on hand when individuals or small groups of travelers arrive at an airport. The meet-and-greet person will help the visitors get their luggage and may even accompany or drive them to their hotel. (The meet-and-greet service is purchased in advance by the travelers.) Convention or meeting planners also sometimes hire guides and tour managers to operate pre- or post-convention tours for them.

Other Tour-Related Job Opportunities

Tour members often perceive the driver, escort, and guide as the tour company. But behind the scenes is virtual army of individuals who ensure that the tour and company function well. Who are these people and what do they do?

* Reservationists deal with travel agents and the public via the telephone.

* Sales representatives serve as contact persons between travel agencies and the tour operator.

* Marketing personnel choreograph the company's advertising and generally facilitate the design and distribution of the tour product.

* Operations staff members ensure that the tours are well-planned and function smoothly. Many subcategories of tour operations exist, including itinerary planning, escort assignment and training, and company-supplier communications.

* Executives have ultimate responsibility for the company's success and for the performance of its workers.

It should be noted that during "slow" seasons, some tour leaders and guides serve their company in other capacities--for instance, as sales representatives or itinerary planners. Very common, too, is for tour managers to retire from their escorting careers in order to work in one of the above-described jobs. Indeed, most tour executives once served as tour conductors or guides.

The Appeal of Tour Conducting

The position of tour manager is one of the most attractive and sought-after in the travel industry. A recent poll of major tour operators indicates that the average company receives nearly 300 inquiries per year for escort employment. Some of the larger tour operators report more than 500 applicants yearly. Why do so many people want to be tour directors?


Tour escorting is a high-profile, glamorous job. First, a tour conductor is paid to travel to the world's most exotic places, stay in splendid hotels (sometimes in a suite), and enjoy fine cuisine. Second, since the escorts are frequently hired as independent contractors, they often choose when and where to work. Tour conducting certainly is not a nine-to-five job.


Smartly dressed, the focus of attention for as many as fifty people, a master of a variety of skills, an escort becomes an instant celebrity to a tour group. Indeed, a good tour manager entertains and controls people in ways that are fascinating, dramatic, and heady.


Tour escorting builds character and challenges one's skills. Why are good tour conductors so patient? Perhaps, in part, because the job made them that way. To succeed in the profession, a tour manager must have certain well-defined personality traits that are further refined through experience--having to make the right decision instantly, calm an irate passenger, break through to an obstinate hotel clerk, or improvise entertainment when a motorcoach breaks down. Jim Penler, retired chairman of the board of Paragon Tours, remarks, "It's amazing how many ex-escorts of ours are now lawyers, doctors, college professors, and leaders of the travel industry. One even became the mayor of the city where our corporate headquarters is located. I'd like to think that we spotted this energy and ambition when we hired these escorts. But I suspect that the job itself molded much of what later has served these people well."

Salary and Benefits

Tour directors are paid well to see the world. Although this commonly held perception is largely true, a few caveats are in order. A tour operator often limits escorts to certain destinations. It's often true that escorts sample a narrow range of international attractions, at least in the early stages of employment, since companies assign novice escorts to less popular tours. Tour operators expect escorts to be fully available during high seasons. They may treat escorts as freelance independents, yet frown on their working for competing companies. And they'll certainly stop offering tours to an escort who turns down too many trips.

The financial rewards can be substantial. The typical tour operator pays a tour conductor a set amount per day (per diem salary), although some pay an hourly wage. A recent survey indicated that the average beginning tour director in the United States earned $50 per day; a veteran escort, $75 per day. Motorcoach companies tended to pay the least, with a starting average of about $40 daily. Inbound operators pay the most: veteran tour managers make as much as $150 daily, in large part because of the foreign language skills required for the job. Companies located in large cities, such as New York or Los Angeles, generally pay far more than those in smaller cities or towns. Incentive companies also pay a rather high per diem salary, if only because the trip director is less likely to receive tips or commissions.

Internationally, tour manager salaries can be quite high in relation to the standard of living. "In Ireland," observes James Murphy, chairman of Brendan Tours, "tour escorts are among the country's highest-paid people. And this is despite the fact that they basically work only from April to October."

When assessing the profitability of tour conducting, one must go beyond mere salary and examine the "perks" of the field:

* Transportation, accommodations, and most meals are provided free of charge to tour leaders. (Such free items are called comps, short for complimentary.) Most of their other expenses are picked up by the tour company.

* Tipping is an important revenue source. A good tour director makes about $400 to $600 in gratuities from passengers on a week-long trip, or about $2 to $3 per person per day. (It should be noted that a few companies disapprove of tips for tour conductors. Also, groups from certain countries, such as Japan, aren't culturally accustomed to tipping.)

* Sales commission on optionals (also called add-ons) provide important income to tour managers at certain companies. An optional is a tour component that is not included in the tour price. The client can purchase this optional excursion during the tour. Optionals often appeal only to some passengers: a nightclub tour of Paris, a sightseeing plane flight over the Grand Canyon, a shopping excursion in Hong Kong. (This narrower interest in part accounts for its being optional.) The tour conductor typically gets 10 to 20 percent of what the client pays for the optional. This serves as a reward for their on-tour sales skills.

* Commissions on certain other extras must also be factored in. When a tour conductor "steers" a group to a gem factory, souvenir store, or extra nightclub tour, he or she often receives a commission or kickback. (Many tour companies and most incentive houses ban the practice; others ask the tour director to give half of the commission back to the company; and still others see it as an accepted means of supplementing the tour managers' incomes and allow them to keep it all.) It's not unusual for a tour leader to double his or her income in this manner.

* About half of all tour conductors and over two-thirds of those who work for inbound operators are treated by their companies as "independent contractors." Since they're self-employed, they're able to take a large number of tax deductions. Those who are considered employees usually receive company insurance and other benefits. (The government has put pressure on tour operators to classify tour managers as employees.)

* Many companies give their tour leaders a per diem expense allowance (not to be confused with per diem salary). This allowance, intended to cover such things as meals and laundry, is given whether the escort incurs the expenses or not. Typically it amounts to somewhere between $10 and $30 per day.

* A few companies place tour directors on a list that qualifies them for reduced airfares when they travel on their own. Tour managers for intermodal companies also accumulate substantial frequent-flyer miles, as long as their tour air tickets aren't free or at special industry fares.

In summary, a tour manager--or at least those veterans who work thirty to forty weeks a year--can make about as much as an airline pilot or a major travel industry executive.

The Downside of Tour Management

To many people, tour conducting seems to be a dream career. But unrealistic expectations can quickly transform that dream into a nightmare. Escorting is a tough, demanding job. Its rewards, though considerable, are hard-earned.

For instance, tour conductors live out of a suitcase. Any semblance of a normal life evaporates. Home becomes a place where you repack your luggage. No wonder that many tour managers are unmarried. Those who are married must adjust to long periods of absence from their families. Furthermore, the timing and number of tours made available to a tour conductor is thoroughly unpredictable, which makes it even more difficult to maintain a normal family life.

Once on the road, a tour leader faces considerable stress. He or she is responsible for dozens of people, some of whom may be difficult or demanding. The hours can be long. If someone calls at 3 A.M. with a problem, the groggy escort must respond immediately. In reality, a tour conductor is on duty twenty-four hours a day. Since they are "celebrities" to their group, they have very little privacy. As far as touring is concerned, Murphy's Law is very much in effect: if something can go wrong, it will.

Yet good training and practiced strategies can transform the stresses of tour conducting into a bracing set of challenges. It also helps to have the right personality.

The Tour Manager Personality

Does the perfect escort personality type exist? Probably not. Some tour conductors have achieved success by being intensely outgoing, others by perfecting their ability to deliver information, and still others by juggling a thousand concerns in a calm, low-key manner. Furthermore, each tour operator has its own favored personality type for tour managers. Many companies seek out individuals who have strong entertainment skills--who can lead sing-alongs, tell jokes, and organize games. Others prefer escorts who can weave cultured and informed narration. For them, the ability to entertain is useful but not fundamental to the job.


In general, tour managers must love people, no matter how cranky or demanding they get. They must love travel--individuals who dislike its inconveniences and who rarely voyage far from home are poor candidates for escort work. They must love places--no trait impresses a tour member more than an escort's obvious affection for the destination to be visited.

There also seem to be specific character traits that predispose tour leaders to success in almost every context. Dozens of these traits exist. For simplicity's sake, they can be grouped into six general categories.

An Outgoing Personality

Tour managers have a positive, energetic, and open approach to both people and tasks. They're often instantly likeable, or at least grow on people quite quickly, and have good appearance, health, and grooming. They usually are quite articulate, with a well-developed sense of humor, solid conversational skills, and the ability to entertain people with their stories and anecdotes. Timid or withdrawn "wallflowers" rarely succeed as escorts although, with time, somewhat shy people have often blossomed as tour managers.


"Your luggage is stolen. You're five thousand miles from home. What do you do? WHAT DO YOU DO?!!" So went the familiar American Express commercial. But tour conductors always seem to know what to do. Natural leaders who command respect, they are emotionally controlled, alert at all times, calm in the face of a challenge, and able to anticipate a problem before it arises or be doggedly persistent until it is solved. Tour leaders translate experience and common sense into firm, quick action. They think on their feet.

People Skills

Courteous, patient, sensitive, caring, unselfish, diplomatic, even-tempered, tactful yet firm--a tour director is expected to be all these things toward both clients and associates. Escorting is a consummate service job, one in which the tour leader carries on an extraordinarily subtle and extended relationship with each tour group served. It's no surprise that the ranks of tour management are filled with former nurses, social workers, and therapists. Tour conductors are types who genuinely care about people, listen to what clients have to say, and are ready to go beyond a nine-to-five mentality to a twenty-four-hour concern for a group's welfare.

Organizational Skills

In a 1930s movie, W.C. Fields approaches his desk, looking for an important paper. An "efficiency expert" has apparently reorganized the mess that was on his desk into neat little piles. Fields throws everything into the air and exclaims, "Ah, here it is!" He then easily plucks the wanted document from the newly created disarray.

W.C. Fields would hardly have made a first-rate tour conductor (for many reasons). A good tour manager must be a good time manager. Reports, schedules, deadlines, and money management are all integral parts of the job. Tour directors are conscious of details (one missed reconfirming phone call can spell disaster), punctual (a tour leader who is always late will rapidly lose control of a tour), and thoroughly responsible. They cannot, though, become obsessive about it all. On a tour, flexibility is as productive as accuracy.

Research Skills

Though knowledgeable tour guides usually supplement escorts at each destination, tour managers must nonetheless keep up on all sorts of facts, including such minutiae as postage and phone costs, tipping practices, foreign exchange rates, and the next day's weather--the kinds of things that loom large during a tour. Some companies even expect tour directors to do double duty as guides, in which case they have to study the history, geography, botany, and zoology of the visited area.

Intelligence and education, of course, are significant to escort success. But more important is a curious, inquisitive approach to things, a dedication to gathering accurate and up-to-date information, and a knowledge of where and how to find that information. Successful tour managers are the kind of people who have broad interests, skim the newspaper daily, enjoy watching The Discovery Channel, have at least some knowledge of a foreign language or two, and aren't so jaded that they stay on the motorcoach while their group visits some breathtaking attraction.

A tour conductor must also be able to communicate information in a clear, concise, and diverting manner. For this reason, tour operators often recruit escorts from among teachers, professional speakers, and actors.

A Sense of Ethics

Not too long ago, a Time magazine cover story warned that unfocused ethical standards have become a major threat to business. Nowhere is the problem more critical than in tour conducting. The tour conductor must balance fairness to the client with loyalty to the company. Both passenger and tour operator must depend on the honesty and integrity of a tour leader. Tour managers--with the power, perks, and independence they enjoy on the road--must be well-situated ethically.

Final Considerations

A few decades ago it was common to hear that women carried too little authority to succeed as tour directors and that tour managers who were middle-aged or older had too little energy. Though traces of this sort of stereotyping remain, modern employers understand that sex, race, religion, and age are poor predictors of escort success. Indeed, the majority of all tour conductors today are women. A job that was once the province of students looking for something interesting to do during the summer or of young adults moving on to "bigger and better things" has become, in many cases, a second career for people in their middle years or in retirement.

It is true that tour managers burn out rather rapidly. The average part-time tour director lasts four years with a company, while the typical full-timer lasts seven. Why are escort careers relatively brief? Some tour conductors are students working their way through college. Once their studies are done, they enter other professions. Many tour conductors move on to management positions in their companies. Others transfer to competing tour operators. Still others feel they have faced and met a challenge; satisfied, they move on to other professions.

The greatest reason for burnout, though, may be that certain opposing personality traits tend to cluster in predictable patterns. A few of these traits may at first carry a tour manager to success, but with time the other accompanying traits may undermine that success. Psychological profilers, for instance, have noted that entertainer types often don't pay particularly close attention to detail or routine. A gregarious, performer-type person may enjoy escort work at first but then chafe at holding to schedules or filling out forms. In turn, a meticulous and methodical tour manager may feel exhausted from being continuously in the spotlight, or a tour conductor who is especially resourceful or enterprising may feel restricted by complex company regulations.

You may believe at this point that the "required" attributes of a successful tour manager are so overwhelming that you could never be all these things. Take heart. Though a delicate balance of traits marks any accomplished tour director, there are thousands of persons worldwide who practice the craft efficiently and well. Some have been at it for decades, and they're still as enthusiastic as when they began. Over the years, they've sharpened their strengths and compensated for their weaknesses.

Successful tour managers feel secure in the knowledge of one important and accepted truth: A client may perceive a good tour with a poor escort as a failure, but that same client will judge a problem-plagued tour with a great escort as a qualified success.


Unlike the general public, the travel industry distinguishes between the terms "tour guide" and "tour manager." Tour conductors work for tour operators, incentive houses, and many other organizations. They're supported by a host of employees back at the tour operator's office. People are attracted to tour conducting for its glamour, challenge, and monetary compensation. There's a downside to the profession, though, including its mobility, stress, and responsibilities. An ideal tour manager is outgoing, decisive, organized, ethical, inquisitive, and has good speaking and people skills.


1. Give five reasons why people take tours.

2. What is the difference between a tour guide and a tour manager?

3. Identify the following: on-site guide, city guide, driver-guide, step-on guide.

4. For what specific kinds of companies can a tour manager work?

5. Distinguish among motorcoach, intermodal, and independent tours.

6. Explain three reasons tour conducting appeals to many people.

7. Discuss how tour managers are financially compensated.

8. What are the disadvantages of a career in tour conducting?

9. Name six specific personality traits that are common among tour conductors.

10. Why are escort careers often short?


* Read the following very carefully:

Mr. and Mrs. Jones wish to arrange a vacation through Getaway Travel, a neighborhood agency where they usually book their travel. Ramon, a Getaway employee who regularly counsels the Joneses on their needs, recommends that they take an escorted tour. Specifically, Ramon favors Blossom Tours, an American company that sends many people to Asia and with which other clients of Ramon have been very pleased.

Two months later the Joneses arrive at the airport and are met by a woman in a red blazer. She introduces herself as Lynette, the tour conductor for Blossom Tours who will accompany the Joneses and their fellow travelers for the tour's fifteen-day duration. Most of the other group members have already gathered near the airline counter.

After a long overnight flight, the group arrives at its first stop, Tokyo. A small transfer bus transports the group to their hotel. Their luggage is loaded onto a separate truck. The next day, a large motorcoach marked "Japan Excursions" picks up the group. Lynette explains that Blossom Tours works with Japan Excursions on all American tours visiting Japan. She introduces Yuki, who works for Japan Excursions and will be their guide for the day. (Each day a different guide will narrate their tour.)

Yuki's English is excellent. She explains the passing sights of Tokyo with great precision and flair. Upon arrival at a Buddhist temple, however, Yuki turns over the sightseeing chores to Saburo, who works there and knows the shrine area in depth. The same thing happens at the Tokyo Museum of Art, where a volunteer guide, Keiko, takes the group through the museum's halls.

Lynette accompanies the group back to the United States and bids them farewell at the airport.

* Now complete the following sentences with the items below. No item can be used more than once. Two items will not be used at all.

a tour escort

a docent

a site guide

an outbound operator

a travel agency

a personal guide

a travel agent

a city guide

a meet-and-greeter

an inbound operator

1. Getaway Travel is probably

2. Ramon is probably

3. Blossom Tours is

4. Lynette is

5. Japan Excursions is

6. Yuki is

7. Saburo is

8. Keiko is probably


* Select a famous person--past or present, real or fictitious (from a book, play, movie, etc.)--whom you could imagine as being a highly successful tour manager. Explain your choice:

The famous person:

Those traits that would make him or her successful as a tour manager:


* A person who is organized and able to handle stress probably has a better chance of being a successful tour director or, for that matter, successful in any capacity at a tour company than one who is not. Complete the following questionnaire, answering only "yes" or "no" to each item. If you have trouble fitting your answer into a yes or no category, choose the one closest to your usual behavior. Several questions assume you own a car; if you do not, answer these questions according to what you think you would do if you owned a car. Your instructor or trainer will then help you score and interpret the results. If they show that you are not well-organized or do not handle stress well, you will have to concentrate more on your sense of organization and your stress-coping skills. If you score well, you are already on the road to escort success! But remember, this is an indication of only two of the many skills that a tour manager should have.

Yes   No

[]    [] 1. Are you often upset when the other line at the supermarket
            moves faster than yours?

[]    [] 2. At home, do you have a monthly calendar (one that shows an
            entire month on one page, with space to write things in)?

[]    [] 3. Do you occasionally incur finance charges unintentionally
            by paying your bills late?

[]    [] 4. As a student, do you or did you ever consider handing in
            the same assignment for different classes?

[]    [] 5. Do you have a personal organizer--either paper-based or
            electronic--that you carry with you?

[]    [] 6. Assume it's a weekend and you have absolutely no chores
            or work to do. Will doing nothing make you feel guilty?

[]    [] 7. Are you a morning person?

[]    [] 8. Do you usually try to arrive exactly on time (neither late
            nor early) for appointments?

[]    [] 9. Do you usually make a copy of documents you write or sign?

[]    [] 10. Do you have maps in your car?

[]    [] 11. Do you usually reconfirm appointments that were made some
             time in advance?

[]    [] 12. Do you try to return a phone call within 24 hours?

[]    [] 13. In your home, do you have a customary place for your

[]    [] 14. Do red traffic lights upset you when you drive?

[]    [] 15. While in school, do you or did you usually cram before a

[]    [] 16. If you went home right now, would there be a pad and
             pencil next to the phone you use most?

[]    [] 17. Do you often put off returning a call to someone you
             don't like, even if it's important?

[]    [] 18. Are you frequently tired, even after a good night's

[]    [] 19. Do you generally have your car tuned up on a regular

[]    [] 20. Do you ever throw away, unopened, mail that is obviously
             junk mail?

[]    [] 21. Is lunch usually the most substantial meal of your day?

[]    [] 22. Do you wait until you have dental problems to see your

[]    [] 23. Do you frequently skip breakfast?

[]    [] 24. Do you have a filing system at home for your personal

[]    [] 25. Do you lose your temper more often than you would like?

[]    [] 26. Do slips of paper with phone numbers, addresses, etc.,
             tend to pile up in your purse or wallet, on your desk,
             or in your pockets?

[]    [] 27. Do you get frequent headaches or backaches?

[]    [] 28. If the light bulb in the main lighting fixture of your
             bedroom were to burn out tonight, would you have another
             bulb in storage to replace it?

[]    [] 29. Do you ever take material to read with you while waiting
             to see a doctor?

[]    [] 30. When you're alone at home, do you almost always pick up
             the phone when it rings, even if you are busy?

[]    [] 31. Do you respond to your e-mail and other messages in a
             timely manner?

[]    [] 32. Is there something in your home that has been broken
             for months?

Marc Mancini, Ph.D.


Department of Travel

West Los Angeles College
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Article Details
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Author:Mancini, Marc
Publication:Conducting Tours, A Practical Guide, 3rd ed.
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2001
Next Article:Chapter 2 City and site guiding.

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