July 13, 2013

A Guide to Tour Guides

The adage “You get what you pay for” is very true when it comes to booking sightseeing tours and guides.  Not that it means the best guides are the most expensive.  But in general, paying extra for a private guide ensures you’ll have a more enriching experience.  A good guide is not only an expert in their field, they are better trained at customer service, they can personalize a tour to match your interests, and can even make adjustments on the fly based on the weather, the crowds, or even your kids’ mood!  And private means all their attention is focused on you, no waving your hand amidst a crowd, trying to get your question answered.

Many times a run of the mill group tour is really all you need for a particular attraction. Want to go to the top of the Eiffel Tower without waiting in line, then sure, book the relatively cheap Skip The Line tour. But planning to visit the Louvre, Vatican, or Pompeii?  Look at these quotes from  tour guides in a recent article on Conde Naste Traveler:
"We can do the job in our sleep.  What sounds spontaneous on a tour is completely rehearsed."
"Americans are probably the kindest and most generous people we work with.  They're happy with everything we show them.  But because of that, some guides take them for granted, treat them with laxity, and don't give them the fullest experience."

Now, compare this with testimonials from my clients for whom I arranged private tours:

"Our guide for the Louvre in Paris, Robin, was absolutely fabulous and made the tour so interesting and memorable for the kids.  She was incredibly passionate about her work and knew so much about absolutely everything at the Louvre as well as Versailles.  It was an unbelievably rewarding experience and my kids still ask if we can see Robin again after two years."

"The tour you booked for us was an unforgettable experience.  Our driver was also the owner and he has a zoologist/botanist background, so he was able to fully entertain the kids on the long drives with lots of facts about Australia and its flora & fauna…Thank you so much for everything you did to help us with this vacation.  It was such a great experience!"

And from a colleague’s client:

"From the minute we arrived in Istanbul we were in the safe hands of our fabulous guide. The days in Istanbul were planned perfectly and his knowledge of all the sights we visited was over the top.  We learned so much from him, and also went to the most delicious restaurants where he knew the clientele and we were treated like royalty  Our visit there was so enriched by [his] knowledge and connections…  I actually cried when I had to see him go, and our four daughters wanted him to join us for the remainder of the trip on our gullet!  We had not only had the best Turkish tour guide in the world, but we had gained a friend."

A guide book, a group tour, or even a free walking tour* are often perfectly fine.  But for sights that are crowded, historically or culturally significant, or are of high interest to you, definitely consider splurging on a private tour.  Do your research or work with a travel professional to find a guide that is the best match for you.  If you have young children, you’ll appreciate a guide who is good at engaging and entertaining kids, it’s worth every penny in a hot & crowded museum!  Hotel concierges can help for last minute plans.  But I have heard of not so great experiences with some of their recommendations.  I will only book my clients with companies I know will offer outstanding & reliable service.
* A word of caution: We booked a free tour of a residential neighborhood in Paris, just to try it out and get some insider tips from a local. Two days before we arrived, she emailed to say she had broken her collarbone and had to cancel.  She offered to set us up with another guide in a different location, with another family, but we declined.  We couldn’t complain, it was free after all, but we were disappointed.  I was glad this wasn’t a “must do” item on our list.

No matter where you plan to travel, consider adding a few hours with a private guide to your itinerary.  Just give me a call and I can help you sort out the options, so you can have a memorable family vacation.


Curtis said...


When we first moved to Europe and ventured to a few museums, we thought that paying for a tour guide was a waste of money, especially since some of them can be a lot of money. However, we now know that a good guide is worth the money. We learned far more about art, history, architecture, and more from a guide than we ever would have on our own. A good guide is like having your own personal tutor.

Iris said...

This is cool!