Are you wondering what it is like to be a woman in tourism, precisely being a female tour guide? Whether you’re a woman looking to start their own tour operator business or you’re just curious on the matter, we’ve got you covered in this blog. We couldn’t think of a better way to dive deeper into this topic than interviewing three of our clients, who just so happen to be excellent and experienced female tour guides and owners of successful tour companies.
Without further ado, let’s jump right in by introducing our star interviewees!
Candice – Owner of Tours Around Michigan(opens in a new tab)
Jennifer – Owner of San Diego Walks(opens in a new tab)
Karin – Owner of City Tour Detroit(opens in a new tab)
1. How long have you been in the tourism industry?
Candice: After nearly three decades in media & international public relations, I fell in love with creating joy for others and storytelling through tourism in 2017. So, 5 years.
Jennifer: I’ve been in tourism in San Diego for about 20 years. For most of those years it was a side hustle while I worked a “real” job, but for the last six years it has been my main source of income. I own my own walking tour company, but also work with larger companies as a step-on guide.
Karin: My venture into tourism occurred on a very part-time basis in 2010 when I organized several local tourism conferences and networking events which promoted the historical assets of the region I lived in. From there, I started organizing occasional tours based on the historical assets which interested me. I specifically started my company City Tour Detroit in 2016 when demand for city tours increased dramatically. I figured it was now or never. I opted for now.
2. Why did you choose the travel sector?
Candice: Travel has been part of my work prior to me officially working in tourism, including traveling with foreign government officials for an international corporation. When I started in local tourism, it felt like the perfect fit for my experience with my passions for storytelling and history.
Jennifer: I love traveling myself so it’s a treat to meet people doing the same thing. People are endlessly fascinating and I really enjoy getting to know them during small group tours. I also love storytelling and I live in a place that is known for its beauty, but also has some really interesting stories about its past and the people who got us to where we are today.
Karin: I’ve always liked the travel industry. In retrospect, I wish I would have chosen it much earlier in my career. When I travel, I always love to take short guided tours to find out more about the destination. I believe day tours provide valuable knowledge about the places you’re visiting and help you make the most of the limited time you may have there. I also think taking longer tours can be beneficial as someone else handles the logistics and all you have to do is show up.
3. What are some overlooked challenges for female guides?
- People without housing are more likely to approach a female over a male. The same people may feel more comfortable approaching tours led by females. Guides often need to handle people who talk to tour guests asking for money or follow tours they didn’t pay for. These situations may result in the guide & tour guests feeling unsafe. It can negatively impact the tour experience for guests. People who approach tour groups are often male, bigger, stronger, more intimidating looking than female guides, with an added concern that the person may have unpredictable behaviors. A female tour guide must help her guests feel safe while not putting herself at risk, and diffusing the situation.
- Many tours run into hours after sunset. Walking back to a vehicle or public transportation in the dark to go home may feel more unsafe to a female guide.
- Guests in male only group tours like bachelor party tours don’t always feel like they can fully relax for their guy time around a female guide.
Jennifer: I don’t know how overlooked they are, but there is always the struggle to be treated the same way male guides are treated. Men are given credibility immediately where women have to earn it. Male motorcoach drivers also treat male guides differently than female guides. Many male guides and drivers would probably deny that, but I’ve seen it a lot in the last 20 years.
Karin: From my perspective, I don’t think female guides face any overlooked challenges. The field appears to be very welcoming to men and women of all ages. That said, I only offer walking tours or step-on guide services for a short duration. Perhaps, if I were young, attractive, and on multi-day tours, there might be some sort of occasional sexual harassment to deal with or other challenging situations with management. I’m old or what the media dubs “invisible” and I’m good with that lol. Plus, I’m the boss in my company so I don’t have to deal with challenging management issues such as higher ups not implementing my ideas.
4. How would you recommend travel companies handle these overlooked challenges for female guides?
- Keep open communications with all your guides, but also specifically ask guides about situations that make them feel uncomfortable or unsafe, not only during the tours, but before and after. If there are situations that females may generally feel unsafe, they need to feel open sharing it. When you know specific concerns, which will vary by each person, location and situation, then it’s easier to brainstorm ways to help it feel safer. Also, have guides in training follow your best guides on tours to help them understand the style and also be exposed to different situations they may encounter.
- For people approaching the tour group for money, I will use a respectful, but firm voice. I’ll often say something like, “Sir, this is my tour group. I’m working, so if you leave my guests alone, I’d appreciate it. Thank you.” Confident body language is also helpful in ending the interruption quickly.
- For unhoused people who are listening to the stories, they sometimes encroach within the group’s personal space. I’ll say, “You’re welcome to listen to this story here, but then the group is moving on. If you could give people their personal space, we’d very much appreciate it.” (Often accompanied by a hand gesture to signify they should back up.)
- For people who are not part of the tour group that are following along to the next stop, I’ll give them a business card and say (with a smile), “Hi, This is a paid tour, but please look us up on our website if you’re interested in joining one in the future. Thank you.”
- For groups where the guides are not necessarily a natural fit, like a guy’s bachelor party with a female guide, teach guides to adapt to new situations and focus on creating a professional experience for the guests. When you don’t need to share something with them about the tour, give them space to enjoy their friend time. When speaking with them, focus on adding value to the experience (facts about the tastings or building history, for example), work in any common ground topic you’ve overheard to help them feel more comfortable with you.
Jennifer: Work with the bus companies to bring it to their attention. Since most management of tour companies and bus companies are male they probably don’t see the problem, let alone address it. All tour companies should address the extra challenges of being female on tour during training. Acknowledging that there are differences alone would go a long way to making female guides not wonder if they are the only ones who perceive differences.
5. What do you hope the industry looks like for female guides 10 years from now?
Candice: More training in guiding and customer service, as this makes all the guides operate more uniformly and builds confidence in guides, including female. Also create a company environment where people can safely express their concerns and offer suggestions of improvement. This maximizes the brain power, plus balances experience and concerns of all staff.
Jennifer: I hope there are lots of women in all levels of travel in 10 years, especially in leadership.
Karin: In Detroit, most of the receptive tour operators are female run. The majority of multi-day tour operators and tour guides I work with or know personally are female. I hope that trend continues. Whether one is showing off their city or leading guests on treks across the world, wonderful career opportunities exist for males and females in the tourism sector.
6. What tips do you have for travel companies to make female guides feel more comfortable?
Candice: Keep communication open. Ask how things are going. Ask if there are suggestions to make tours better. Ask if there are any situations or areas where they feel unsafe. Females often feel like they need to quietly tolerate situations as part of the job, when there are solutions that can improve the experience for the guide and the tour guests. Getting this information is the most important step, as you can then start brainstorming on how to improve tours and also help guides feel safe and involved in the improvement of the company.
Jennifer: I think all guides (male and female) can benefit from ongoing training that addresses what is happening in the field now. Having a space to take time to talk about what they have experienced, and be able to get input from other guides on how they addressed a similar situation is one of the most important things a tour company can do. There needs to be two way communication, and guides need to know that they are valued and can get advice and/or tools/resources from management, and management needs to have a clear idea of what their employees are facing in the field.
Although we are just scratching the surface on this topic, we hope you took away from Candice, Jennifer, and Karin’s insight as much as we did! Here at Tourism Tiger, we are as equally eager to use our platform to discuss important industry topics(opens in a new tab) as much as we are to provide the tourism website you’ve been looking for!
With that said, why not check out our portfolio(opens in a new tab) or get in touch with us today for a no-obligation quote(opens in a new tab), just as Candice, Jennifer and Karin once did when they needed a new website.
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