Let’s acknowledge first and foremost that everyone’s been a tour guide at some point in life. If you have a friend or family member visit you, you’re not ever going to completely let them go off and fend for themselves. You’re going to show them your favourite restaurant, or bar, and you’re going to always put something into the conversation about why it’s great living where you do.
Most of the time you have an idea of what you want to show that visitor. When I’ve been visiting my nearest and dearest, I’ve had them plan whole weekends around me which has made me feel really special! I’ve spotted itineraries written out as notes, and had local mementos given to me. And that’s just in the last two years!
Genuine thought is an important component. But as a professional tour guide you have to go one step further and really measure the best possible outcome for visitors. Showcasing a city to the world isn’t something to be taken lightly because there’s an unspoken agreement that you’re an ambassador for the place you call home. This is amplified if you’re a born-and-raised local.
Creating and planning a walking tour isn’t as clear-cut as it may seem. It’s not just about picking a few places and telling dates. It’s about the idea you have for a story – a tour is essentially telling the story of a person, place or thing (genre). Once your market research is complete, deciding on a walking tour and breaking down the planning into the following five steps is crucial for success – be it an Adelaide walking tour, or whichever city you’re in. And this can apply to your own private sojourn with visiting loved ones.
All good things start with a good idea… what your tour is about is important. Start thinking about what you like when you visit somewhere new, and then consider if it can be applied to where you are. Is it history focused? A blend of history and culture? Street art? Walking tours can be about whatever you want, as long as you believe there’s enough interest for it to be successful. It’s great to dream big, and no idea should immediately be struck out. Just keep in mind that the logistics will start telling you quickly if there is little chance of its success.
This is where logistics start to come into it, and it’s here you discover if your idea is going to be interesting enough. That’s because you may find your city doesn’t have as much street art as you’d like to show off, or your story isn’t quite as entertaining as it needs to be. And through extensive research – getting the bulk of your facts off Wikipedia is unacceptable – study is where you find that story. Discovering that a particular sculpture is linked to a pivotal point in time could just take your story to another level. And finding links to your own life also helps – if you’re a long-term local this comes easily, but even if you’re not you can still look out for relatable tales. An important thing with study is to use a range of resources. And that means BOOKS. Don’t rely sorely on the internet because older publications are often written with a tone that can tell the story of that time in itself!
OK, so your idea is sounding better and better in your head and looking fabulous on paper you’re your weeks or even months of study (for the professionals, it should be a bare minimum of one week for a specialised short walking tour and two weeks for a history/culture tour, plus constant revision of your facts). Now you just need to determine a tour length. Easier said than done when you have facts piled up to your ears. You couldn’t possibly only walk and talk for 2 hours! But you can – and cut you must. Condense all that info to picking areas that fit to a time suitable to the city and the visitors you’re receiving. And guaranteed you’ll pull out that extra info more than you think to show how knowledgeable you are. Timing also depends on:
– How long travellers stay (which you’ll have established through market research)
– What places are most important to stop at
– How much you plan to charge
4. Route planning
Planning the route could come first if that suits you better, then determining how long the tour could be from that. But it does help to have an idea of timing in your head already. Get a map, either physical or online, and note your start point, end point and how you get from A to B. Then, if you know your city well enough, you’ll have a rough estimate of how long it takes to walk between sites. However, the best planning is when you walk the route. Repeatedly. Google can’t tell you how long traffic lights will take, or how slow a group may walk. Realising you’re talking about a landmark for five minutes more than you can afford will present itself when you’re actually there acting it out. And timing yourself from start to finish is crucial, noting how long you talk for as well as the distance between stops. An important thing to note is that it’s better to finish under the time you want – large groups do move slower, people do show up late, and any necessary bathroom break will take extra time.
5. Test run
Always do an Alpha and even Beta test (as I call them) before you launch a tour. Get a few friends or colleagues together and get them as ‘visitors’ so you can practice in front of people. Even better, get them to invite their friends who you don’t know, so they can legitimately provide you with a credible first review. Feedback from honest friends as well as strangers will do you a great service though. Doing a test run will show you what you need to change, or present questions that may be frequently asked, or reveal a weak link to the route. You can then make amendments ahead of your first visitors.
It’s a more intense process than most realise, but this is a great labour of love for tour guides. Putting a story together in an entertaining and non-tiring way requires different thinking for a walking tour to something like a coach tour. I’ve loved crafting Adelaide’s daily tips-based (‘free’) walking tour, an in-depth intimate walk in the city and an Adelaide food tour. They’re all for different visitors but serving the same purpose – providing fun, quirky, immersive travel to Adelaide. I hope you find this information useful if you’re planning on becoming a tour guide and creating tours, or an insightful, interesting read if you’re a curious traveller who stumbled across it. Leave a comment with any thoughts you may have on the subject!
PS: If you want to find out more about what tour guides do during a tour, that’s covered in a separate post.
Missed last week’s post? Adelaide has some outdated misconceptions that need to be shelved; I discuss them here.
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