18 July, 2023 | Posted by Jim Dempsey

Exploring The Art of Being a Tour Guide with Jim Dempsey

Jim Dempsey on The Art of Being a Tour Guide

Quite often when you step out as a tour guide it is terrifying. The responsibility can be overwhelming. Stage fright is the closest thing I can think of when I observe this happening to students and newcomers alike. You must have a certain confidence.

This is one of the first things I home in on with students on the course, the source of their confidence. What is it that makes them want to be a guide? A passion for Ireland is a given; the desire to extend hospitality is built into the DNA of most Irish people, and most people from abroad who wish to be guides.  


The very specific thing, however, what is that? We are all storytellers by nature and tour guiding is all about storytelling. I look at training each student individually, to develop this very trait. Some have the knowledge but are not confident of the talent, others have lots of talent but lack the knowledge. 


My favourite tours usually come early in the season, in May or June. You have a new perspective after the relatively closed winter season. You have new stories to share and to tell, well the good guides do!  


As you tell these stories you start to evolve them into entertaining forms and your skills as a storyteller develop. Being able to think on your feet is a critical skill as a guide in my opinion because each tour group is individual, and you tell each group a slightly different version every time.  


One of my all-time favourite tours, which I still talk about today was one of my first. Way back in the late 1990s. I was to pick up a party of four women at Shannon Airport and transfer them via the Killimer – Tarbert ferry to Dingle where they had a dinner reservation for an exclusive restaurant. Time was ample but also tight. 


The lead traveller emerged into the Arrivals hall and came to me straight away.


“We want to go see the Cliffs of Moher!” she announced.


Perplexed, I replied:


“We can’t, it is in the opposite direction, and we are on a timeline.”


She looked me in the eye and said:


“You’re not listening, we want to see the Cliffs of Moher first!”  


This continued until all the women were out with the bags and I was now outnumbered four to one. It was pointless. As I walked to the vehicle the office replied to my missed call. I explained the situation. They requested to speak to the lead traveller and attempted to explain the difficulties this would cause. To no avail, I was instructed to take them to the Cliffs, be as prompt as possible and the restaurant would be rescheduled, if possible.


Off we went. They loved it and I realised who was in charge. These were four women who were lifelong friends, who travelled once a year together and this year it was Ireland, and I was their guide for ten days.  


They arrived in Dingle and made a rebooked dinner reservation. The tour continued the next day with awful weather, clouds down around our ankles. They had booked a hiking and outdoor tour. They were from the southeast USA – think sunshine 24/7. This was not part of their plan.


As I brought them to where we were scheduled to hike, they took one look out the window and said:


“Not a chance!”


“What are we going to do instead?” I innocently asked.


“That’s up to you, you’re the guide. What do YOU like doing?” they replied.


“Food and drink are my specialities” was my reply.  


The itinerary went out the window, as it often does, and I made it up. They finished in The Shelbourne in Dublin after ten days. Delighted. I learned many lessons on that tour, lessons I teach today. 


About the Author


Jim Dempsey has over two decades of experience in the tourism industry and gives fascinating tours right across the country. He is a lecturer on our Tour Guide Level 6 course, you can read his full profile here.


Read More: Discover Tour Guiding as a Profession: A World Full of Travel, Joy and Endless Opportunities

Get in Contact

If you are interested in becoming a tour guide in Ireland you can check out our upcoming courses here.

If you are interested in choosing the course for the career you want, you can book a consultation call with our expert Travel & Tourism advisor Brandon McLean here, email brandon.mclean@portobelloinstitute.com or call 01 892 0035. 


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