Making Extra Money: Earning $50 an Hour as a Tour Guide


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There's growing demand for individualized tours from business travelers and families on the road. Use your knowledge of your home turf to help them have a great visit -- and earn some cash.

One travel downside is that it’s easy to miss hidden jewels — you know, off-the-beaten-path historical sites and kid-friendly amusements.

That’s why your out-of-town visitors likely turn to you for advice long before they arrive in your town. Sure it’s fun to help friends and family find often-overlooked sites, but why stop there?

You can turn your knowledge about your town into extra cash as a tour guide for other visitors.

Carolyn Stevenson has been successful doing just that — crafting tours of her hometown, Miami, to meet her clients’ interests.

“It’s gratifying to be able to educate people, and also to show them something they didn’t know before and to see that look in their eyes,” she said. “Like, ‘Oh wow! That’s so cool!'”

And tour guides are paid well, too — about $50 to $75 an hour.

Of course, Carolyn is lucky to live in an area that has a continuous stream of visitors from around the world. But if you’re in a smaller city, don’t despair. It’s easy to make a case that smaller cities are perhaps even more in need of such guides because a lack of visitor information makes do-it-yourself tours very limited.

In some places, families make up the bulk of visitors. But in some places, it makes sense to focus on business travelers who hire private guides to get the most out of their scarce downtime while on the road.

“The biggest pro is that it’s on your time schedule, so you have full control, which is especially good when you’re trying to maximize a long layover,”  business traveler Lauren Fairbanks, a partner at the marketing firm Stunt & Gimmick’s who typically spends seven to 10 days on the road each month, said speaking to CNN. “I’m actually a fan of checking things out on my own, but only having a few hours in a city and not knowing your way around is a good formula for getting lost and missing your flight.”

To get started as a tour guide …

Create some theme-related itineraries

You don’t need to adhere strictly to any one theme, but thinking of touring by themes will help you prepare for different types of travelers. So for instance, consider activities that are:

Kid-friendly: Where would you take your kids in your town? Water parks, children’s museums, tours by horse-drawn carriage, amphibious vehicle or double-decker bus are often good bets. Are you home to a Legoland Park, a deer park or a beach with seals? Think like a kid …

Historical: Are you in a city of monuments, old gold mines or antebellum mansions? If there are many sites to choose from, become an expert on the ones that offer the most value. Know their business hours, discount ticket days and when they are overcrowded.

Nightlife-centric: If seeing your city from the top of the tallest building is a must-do, learn all the details and best times to go. If that experience is overrated, think about what you can recommend for a view that tourists to the area might not think of — a rooftop restaurant, Ferris wheel or park on a hill, perhaps. Whether the iconic cultural experience in your town is punk bands, opera or off-broadway shows, get up to speed on the best venues, who they cater to and how to get cheap tickets. If there’s an awesome watering hole that is really off the beaten path, be sure to have that in your back pocket for travelers who want a truly local experience.

Outdoorsy: If your climate and amenities lend themselves to sporty activities, know the best venues to recommend. Where are rental bikes located? Is there a place to kayak or an especially scenic hike? Is there a scenic ferry ride or day trip to a good winery?

Gourmet: Every city and region has its specialties. If it’s pulled pork, dim sum or pizza, know the most famous spot for the iconic — but also where locals go. Some travelers will want the T-shirt from the more famous place, while others are looking for the most authentic food. Find out the time and place for your town’s best farmers market.

Funky curiosities or oddball destinations: Think about things that you can point out to people along the way that are just plain original to your town. Is it home to the world’s largest ball of yarn?  A haunted house? A gum wall? The last stand for Bonnie and Clyde? These things may not make a tour unto themselves, but they are a good way for a local to help spice up the trip for visitors.

Then, work on your gift of gab.

“You have to get used to having a group and holding their interest, and how to be able to know when to be quiet, when to talk … you just develop that rapport,” advised Carolyn.

Sites for building your business

So you’ve got the knowledge, the enthusiasm and the time to become a private tour guide. You could advertise and market yourself, or use a site like one of these to connect with clients:

  • Rent a Local Friend: It costs $100 per year to become a “Local Friend,” but the site is well-read thanks to the tips and hints that draw travelers to it. Apply to become a “Friend.” Once accepted, you design your profile, market it with help from the company and begin to offer tours.
  • ToursByLocals: Plan to go through a screening before you are accepted at ToursByLocals. This company likes to make sure you are qualified. But once you’re on board, the company gives you free training and helps with marketing. You pay a percentage of fees you earn for each tour (the most recent news we had stated that was 20 percent) but they offer plenty of perks including tools, training and $3 million liability insurance.
  • Vayable: This site is for tour guides but also for anyone else who wants to offer a skill — painter, teacher, party planner — as a “Vayable Insider.” Tours make up the majority of the business for this company, noted Forbes. Basically the company vets requests for your tours. If you book it, they arrange the details and collect payments, less their 15 percent fee.

What great ideas and places do you have to share with out-of-town visitors? Share with us in comment below or on our Facebook page.

Stacy Johnson

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