Professional Tour Management Training



Your Job as a Tour Director

We interviewed Cherie Anderson, owner and president of Professional Tour Management Training in Lake Forest, California, to get her insights on what it's like to be a tour director. Ms. Anderson has led tours across the globe. When she is not busy touring, she is training others how to become tour directors, travel staff and guides. In the following interview, she also explains some of the benefits formal training can provide.

What is the difference between a tour director and a travel agent?

Tour directors are actually out in the field leading the tours. Travel agents work for an agency selling the tours and making the reservations. The two roles are completely different, one is hands on visiting various countries, dealing with people and logistics while the other works mainly in the office.

As a tour director, I don't work in the office at all.e

I don't plan, sell or market the tours. I am hired to travel with the tour group. For example if I am doing a tour in Australia and New Zealand, I meet the tour group in Los Angeles and we fly together to Australia, New Zealand and then return from Fiji 3 1/2 weeks later. I go home, I'm finished with the tour. I avoid the office. Travel agents have to know computer codes, the computer programs, selling and all the other clerical work, that's not at all what we do as tour directors.

Most people I train as tour directors and guides don't want at desk job. If you want a steady office position I suggest working in-house for an agency, tour operator, incentive house, DMC, student tour operator, sightseeing company, receptive services company and or a cruise line. There are lots of opportunities for sales, marketing, reservations, account executives, IT, administration, event planners and such. Tourism is full of opportunities and I think it's the best industry in the world. I love it.

How did you become a tour guide?

I do sometimes act as a guide but I'm mainly a tour director, traveling with the tour groups. I was in education, sales and a variety of other careers before I became a tour director. I actually found my way into this industry by volunteering on a cruise ship as a children's activities counselor. That job led to working as a cruise host on the cruise lines. Tour operators hire me to escort their guests on cruises to all their various destinations. That experience eventually lead to escorting tour groups for international tour operators.

How did you evolve from a tour director into teaching courses on how to be a tour guide and tour director?

In 1993, I realized there was a need for a college course that would provide direction to those who are interested in tour guiding, tour directing and cruise hosting. I decided to combine my education background with my career in tours and developed my course which is now available in my "Tour Director Training Guide".

In the United States there is very little available to educate people in tour management. Most people apply to tour operators and state in their applications they qualified because "I love people and I love to travel. "  That helps but that doesn't mean they are qualified to lead a tour, especially overseas. Tour operators need to feel comfortable that the people they hire know the procedures, briefings, documentation, safety and behind the scenes work that goes into being a successful tour guide and tour director. That is exactly what my course offers.

How did September 11th impact the tourism industry?

Immediately after 911 more people wanted to travel domestically. Tour operators added domestic tours to their itineraries. In that sense it worked to the advantage of the new tour directors. Tour directors could now be trained domestically which is easier for both the tour director and tour operator. After gaining experience they may be placed on international tours.

Another thing that really impacted the tourism industry is that the economy fell after 9/11 and it hurt the incentive market. The same happened with the 2008 recession. As the economy tightened up companies shortened their trips and looked for ways they could still offer incentive trips but more economically. For example, an incentive house that before 9/11 might rent out Sea World for the night would instead offer a "dine around" and take their guests for fine dining.

You've mentioned several times Incentive Houses, what exactly is an Incentive House?

The incentive houses work with Fortune 500 companies in planning their company trips. The trips may be a reward for their employee's job performance, training, meetings, team building, a convention or an introduction to new products. Tour directors, often called "travel staff", are hired to travel to the destination and make sure their guests receive VIP treatment.

The incentive house will then hire a DMC or Destination Management Company which is a company located in or near the trip destination. They hire local tour directors and tour guides to assist the guests by meeting them at the airport, covering hospitality desks, taking them to attractions, leading city tours, assisting with dine-a-rounds, taking them on car or boat rallies, assisting with parties and events and so on. DMC work is fun and a great way for new tour directors to start getting experience and networking. I cover the job responsibilities in my training. My new tour directors have been very successful starting with the DMC's.

I've enjoy working with the DMC's in training and also working as a local tour director when I'm home. It's great for those that don't want to travel and those that need flexibility in their career, like moms. I really enjoy the people I work with. I'm used to working independently on international tours but when working programs for DMC's and incentive house it's all a team effort. It attracts professional sharp people since the clients are company VIP's. I have to say I love the people I work with, many I trained and have known for years.

If someone came up to you and asked you how to get into the tour guiding business what advice would you give them?

Let me help. I'm very upfront, detailed and straight forward in my training. My goal is to help my students to be successful and to get hired. As an educator that's my biggest thrill.

I recommend ordering the "Tour Director Training Guide". It includes all the necessary tour procedures, safety, narration, briefings, handling emergencies, medical emergencies and such. It also covers local, domestic and international careers. The guide includes a list of potential employers and how to gain experience in the industry. I'm also here to help.

I have face to face training throughout the year which gives them the practical experience to go with the "Tour Director Training Guide". The training tours vary so they need to contact me for information or sign up for my Newsletter on

The other thing I tell someone interested in becoming a tour director is, don't quit your day job yet. It may be competitive to become a tour director and you can start getting part time experience pretty much wherever you live. You can work as a step on guide for a local tour operator, work locally for a destination management company, work for receptive services, volunteer to docent at a local museum or historical site or work at a popular attraction. If you live near a port of entry for a cruise line you can start getting experience and networking working as pier staff when the ships dock.

There are lots of ways to gain experience in the field that will help you land a job with a major tour operator if that's your goal.

Finally I tell my students to network. Often a tour director or a guide will be offered a job and when they are not available. The tour operator will ask, "Do you know anyone who can do the tour?" Word of mouth recommendations go far in this business so it's a good idea to build up a network within the tour guide community.



Tour Director Employment Opportunities Explained

This is Part II of our interview with tour industry professional, Cherie Anderson, who is the owner of the Professional Tour Management Training in Lake Forest, California. Few people understand the innerworkings of the travel and tourism industry than Anderson. Interested in becoming a tour guide? If yes, then read all three parts of this insightful interview.

What kinds of career advancement can a tour guide look forward to?

The future opportunities are amazing. Tourism is the largest and fastest growing industry in the world. The baby boomers are retiring and many of them say they want to spend their retirement traveling.

Tour directing can also lead to other opportunities. I've done lectures throughout the US doing seminars and workshops for a number associations and companies. I've turned down jobs promoting hotels, cruise lines and countries.

Tour directors have become product managers (developing tours), vice presidents and presidents of tour operations. This kind of work also develops excellent leadership skills for other careers. I know tour directors that have started their own DMC's, incentive houses and tour operations.

Do you have to be an expert on any given subject before you get hired as a tour director?

It depends on what kind of tour operator you are working for. Most U.S. domestic tours include a lot of history and or geography as when leading National Parks tours. It might be difficult to get a job giving tours of Gettysburg if you're not familiar with the Civil War.

However, the internet makes research easy. If you tell a specific employer that you have tour management training and can research and deliver informative and interesting narration, that's really what most are looking for in the staff.

When I lead an international tour, local guides deliver the narration. I don't need to know the history of Australia or wherever the tour may be. I'm also not bilingual, my local guides help if I need an interpreter. My job is to manage the tour group, not deliver the narration.

How difficult is it to juggle a family life while being a tour director?

You can work locally for a destination management company, receptive services (meet and greet) or lead local tours, which will allow you to be home and still be a part of the tourism industry. However, if you work for a domestic or international tour operator you might be gone for several weeks at a time. Some families may like that set up, for others it's not really an option.

Would you say that the work for land tours is pretty much year round or is it more of a seasonal job?

There are high and low seasons, but tourism is year around. I lead international tours so we are busy all year round. For example, when it is winter above the equator, it is summer below the equator.

In the fall we usually started our South American, Australia and New Zealand tours. In the winter when the domestic tours slow down the domestic tour directors and guides may work for the incentive houses and destination management companies to keep busy.

The incentive trips are the busiest in the winter and spring. There really are opportunities all year.

I have a past student that works for Tauck Tours. If it's slow for her during the winter, she works for the cruise lines at that time.

You mentioned tour directors are always busy doing work behind the scenes. Do you even get to experience the "fun" of traveling?

Good question. Of course we have fun! We get to experience all the things that people pay thousands of dollars to do. Some people think that the tour group is with us 24 hours a day. They don't want to be with us all the time! The group wants time to themselves and time to go off on their own. We may have some days where we are working from morning until night, usually on travel days, but then there are other days when we may only have a half day tour. When this happens we can go off and explore the destination on our own.

Not to mention we participate in all the fun evening activities that are planned for the guests. For example, the evening might include a night out at the Moscow Circus, a Tango Show,  or Shanghai Acrobats. As the tour director you get to be part of these incredible events. It really is a fantastic experience.

Do tour directors usually freelance or do they work through a company?

In the past most tour directors and guides worked freelance. About 2002 the IRS and the State of California determined that most were actually ‘employees'. This lead to law suits and so today most companies hire their staff as full and or part time employees. Some people start out working for several companies. When I started as a tour director I worked for a couple companies. Once the tour operators receive the evaluations from the tour members and see the tour director knows their job they will usually keep them pretty busy. Evaluations are extremely important which is why the tour director needs to know how to lead the tour and can't expect to just learn as he or she goes along.

Can you draw any parallels between tour guiding and other types of employment?

There's a lot of carry over. Teachers, mothers, actors, health care workers, administrators, managers, I find almost any responsible career has carry over that will help. I think I've used every skill I've ever had in tour directing and guiding. We do it all, we're teachers, caretakers, lecturers, sales people, administrators, actors, customer service reps, we do it all. Most people think we are mainly a host, we are much more than that. I often hear from my students how much more involved our careers are than they originally thought.

Do you have certain qualifications or any restriction you're looking for before you let someone take your classes?

No. I find most skills can be learned if the student will follow my instructions and say exactly what I list in the lessons.

I've had students I didn't think would be particularly good tour directors or guides and they turned out to be excellent. I've had others I thought would be excellent and they couldn't show up on time or cancelled at the last minute.

If they are not responsible then they shouldn't be tour directors or guides. It's not the type of job where you can put on your voicemail and hope that will cover for you. You have to actually be there and on time. Better yet, be early!

What would you say your typical student is like? Are they usually college age or adults?

Most of my students are mature. It's a great job for those that are 'mature'. They have experience and maturity is an asset since most people on typical escorted tours are mature, 70% are over 50. I like seeing younger people in the training too. There are so many opportunities now! Tourism is the largest and fastest growing industry in the world, yet most people know very little about it. There are also specific tours where young people are desired and needed such as Contiki Tours or many of the adventure, camping, or Alaska programs.

I trained a young man years ago who had just turned 18. He became a tour director and then worked for years as an assistant cruise director for Princess Cruise Lines. He's literary traveled around the world. There's opportunity for all ages.

Is there any other kind of work experience that is particularly helpful?

Narration is important for domestic tours, so public speaking skills are very helpful.

If you have worked as a ski instructor, camp counselor or other type of activity where you have led and or directed a group of people that may help with your chances.

Volunteering as a docent is also very helpful. In California the mission docents are very knowledgeable of California history.

Customer service skills are important, sometimes handling tour members under stress can be challenging. You need to be able to think and make decisions. You'll be making the decisions for the group. Even though the tour is set up a year in advance, things change and there are challenges. It's up to the tour director to decide what's best for the group.

In my training I give information on handling challenges and emergencies and I have to say, they often seem to happen in the middle of the night. We do the best we can when there's a crisis. In my experience most things that happen may be a hassle and inconvenient but not fatal. Yes, you definitely have to be able to think on your feet.

Perhaps some minimum CPR training would help?

Yes, first aid and CPR are important and some companies require an updated card.

Are there physical demands?

There's often a lot of walking. On some tours like in China, it may be miles of walking, which I love. Active tours have become so popular that it may really be to your advantage to be in shape.

You don't have to be real strong, but we do have long days and jet lag on international tours. And as I said emergencies seem to happen in the middle of the night. You should be able to function occasionally without a lot of sleep. Since it's difficult to replace tour directors before or during a tour, the tour director should be healthy.

Why do you think people typically pursue the tour industry?

Some because they are retired and want to do something new and fun. Other people go into it because they are tired of their day-to-day routine job. They are looking for something that is fun and less routine. In some cases the kids are grown, out of the house and now there's time for mom to travel. I meet lots of people that really want to do something they love.


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Compensation, Benefits, and Training Opportunities

Want to be a tour director? Yes, no, maybe so? After reading this three-part interview with Cherie Anderson, owner of Professional Tour Management Training, you'll know plenty about the profession.

What would you say the average entry-level pay would be?

It varies a lot, depending on the tour operator, type of tour, and destination. Normally, on escorted tours, we earn salary, commission and gratuities. Most tour directors should be making between $250 and $450 a day with experience.

The entry-level destination management companies are starting out their newly trained tour directors at about $15-18 per hour. Experienced tour directors are earning $20-25 per hour, earning time and a half after 8 hours. I've heard from my students some DMC's pay $50 an hour. The leads earn a few dollars more an hour.

Experienced travel staff working for incentive houses are now making $250 to $400 a day when working for the major companies.

You mentioned some of the benefits. Is there anyway to get things like medical or retirement?

Yes, there are lots of changes. In the past we had to buy our own medical insurance. However, in the last few years since the major laws suits over 'employee' status and the growth in tourism, more companies are hiring their tour directors as employees and giving them benefits. Hopefully the policy will continue to grow.

Are there any particular jobs in the industry that people consider more glamorous or popular than others?

I'm sure most would say international tours are thought of as more glamorous. Most of my students say they want to go international. Some of our major tour operators will start their new tour directors on domestic tours before assigning them to international tours. It may not sound as glamorous but spending your days in National Parks, at popular resorts, NYC and such isn't that bad. We have so many wonderful destinations in the US to share.

I have students that prefer the incentive market. They stay at four and five star hotels and work as a team. The income can be just as good and sometimes even better than on escorted tours.

Do companies help the guides with the transportation costs or anything like that?

Absolutely. It's like any other job that requires travel. All of our travel expenses are paid including flights, hotels, meals, and tips. The company will give the tour director funds to cover their expenses and the tour expenses before they leave home.

Can you summarize quickly some of the advantages of training, like yours, versus somebody who just goes it on their own?

As I mentioned the tour operators get a lot of resumes from people that say they are qualified because they love travel and people. By saying that it may tell the tour operator this person thinks the job is being a host and their concern is probably for their own pleasure. It's much more than that.

The job includes safety, legal aspects, specific procedures, documentation, narration, challenges and emergencies.

What are they going to do if someone gets ill or dies on the tour?

Unfortunately that's part of our job too. The training tells the tour operator you know procedures, you know the ups and downs of our careers, their tour members will be taken care of and that the person is serious about the career. It will also save a lot time and frustration in getting into the industry.

Another big advantage to the training is being able to locate the employers and types of employers. Some people still think we work for travel agents. There are lots of different types of employers offering careers locally, domestically, and internationally.

The training will help you be successful and get hired. If they do and say what I list in the "Tour Director Training Guide" the group will run smoothly and they'll feel they are traveling with a professional and experienced tour director. They'll have challenges but I call that 'job security'. If everything always ran smoothly on its own they wouldn't need us.

I often have experienced tour directors and guides in my classes. It's funny how they really appreciate the help since they know how important the steps are in leading tours. Some take it because they want to advance their careers.

Your job does not end when the tour ends, correct?

If you're talking about the end of the day, after the tour members get off the coach, you're right. There's lots that goes on behind the scenes. These are responsibilities the tour members don't know anything about. I cover it all and give examples of documents in the"Tour Director Training Guide". It's not really difficult, you just need to know what is expected.

Do you have a favorite story you might want to relate?

My favorite stories are from my students on their first tours. They tell me I'm right there on their shoulder the whole time. I also enjoy the fact that they get most excited about the challenges during the tour and are impressed with their own skills when they handle challenging situations.

One young man said, "I want to tell you that everything you said is exactly right. " I stress that you have to know your job, be direct, and you have to pretty much stick to you decisions. He said he had tour members that when he told them what time they were departing the next day they said, "No, we want to go later. " So he changed the time to just 15 minutes later. He then had the others in the tour very upset because he changed the time because others wanted it. So you have to know the group psychology. You make the decision, you stick with the decision, and you never ask for a vote. It's not a democracy. People take tours because they want to be led, they don't want to deal with decisions, that's why they're on an escorted tour.

I have another student who was up in Washington State and he called one of his first tours the Red Cross Tour. Within a couple of days he had a woman who slit her knee open and had to have 20 stitches and a man who had to be taken by helicopter to a hospital because he had a heart attack. These are sort of typical stories and things we talk about in class. When the students start working they find out this is what really happens! This is the reality of it all. Fortunately we don't have emergencies and challenges everyday but at least our careers are rarely boring.

I have a student, who started out with Tauck and leads tours to the Alps. Her first tour was with Dominico and they sent her to the East Coast. She was to lead a tour from New Jersey to Myrtle Beach.

She prepared all the narration and when she arrived, she was told, "Now you're doing the tour from New Jersey to Niagara Falls!"  She had tour members from Germany, the United States, and England.

She had to translate documents, do the tour in two languages, and prepare the narration until two o'clock in the morning. I heard from her recently and she's still with Tauck and now helping with their training.

So, they learn it is a job. When the new tour directors get back, I always ask, "How did you like it?" They all have said they absolutely love it!

If you could give people your best advice before pursing land tours as a career, what would it be?

Research the job and responsibilities. has lots of information. It's not for everyone. We're not a host, we are on the tour working. If you find it is the career for you, than you'll absolutely love it. Most tour directors will tell you they can't imagine having a 'real job'.

If you do want to be a tour director or tour guide, be persistent. Get training and experience. Get your resume out there, network and be persistent. The jobs are out there. It took me about one and half years to get my first job in travel. It doesn't need to take my students that long, that's why I started my training. The students leave the course with information it took me years to learn.

Tour Guide Training Resources:

You can email Cherie Anderson directly at Cherie@tourtraining or call her at: (949) 830-8603.

The "Tour Director Training Guide" is available at:

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