18 July, 2023 | Posted by Jim Dempsey

What Top Two Qualities Do All Excellent Tour Guides Have?

What Top Two Qualities Do All Excellent Tour Guides Have

Tour guiding is an oral profession. For 10,000 years humans have gathered around campfires and told stories.

Indeed in his book ‘Sapiens’ - Yuval Noah Harari says it was ‘flexible communication’ that started humanity on its journey towards the world we live in. I agree with this. Storytelling, live oral storytelling, as opposed to written or recorded storytelling, is the prevailing skill of the tour guide. We work exclusively with the voice. 

Two qualities I watched out for in people when I was training tour guides in Wild Rover Tours were that ‘they loved the sound of their own voice’ (were able to talk) and that ‘they had the twitch; were authentic and interesting’.

Over the course of this season, my first full season back post-covid, I came back to these qualities.

The Top Qualities All Excellent Tour Guides Have

When I teach tour guides, history is essential. Gaining knowledge of history is essential but more essential is the ability to then tell that story.

In the classroom, I see natural storytellers who know they have the ability but lack the knowledge. Similarly, there are history geeks who would bore the life out of you.

In order to be effective, and successful, as a tour guide you need to be an accomplished teller as well as knowledgeable. Stories are transmitted too. Some 93% of communication is non-verbal so we ALL are transmitting non-verbally ALL the time and being aware of this is the art of the storyteller.

Knowing your biases; managing and even enhancing them at times is the practice of an accomplished tour guide. Awareness of how to communicate non-verbally; how to manage that is one of the key aspects of how I teach this course.

Adaptability becomes a key trait of long-serving guides and their ability to fit into any situation and remain relevant and interesting. Fluidity in the mindset is essential to allow you to connect with diverse groups of people. This is a trait that some have naturally and others have to learn.

Sounding like a political broadcast is all too common among tour guides. Despite all your efforts, your point of view will come out no matter how much you try to limit them. This is authentic expression; it is inevitable but when it is framed by a wide perspective it becomes valuable.

That authenticity is what clients are paying you for. Nowhere in the world do people come to a country where the people themselves are a tourist attraction but Ireland.

Honing the skills of the oral tradition is essential; none of us, very few of us are that talented. I learnt from experience the art of listening and the art of speaking are one and the same. Those who can listen are the most capable speakers. Listening is a quality I have thus come to recognise when looking at tour guides. An unbalanced level of authenticity is corrected by coming across as a listener.

Learning to use the voice then becomes essential. Managing the vocal range and ability also is a process we must manage; learning to speak up and out.

I have seen people overcome speech issues in order to get their words out. Getting out words is not easy for many people. This too then becomes part of the curriculum.

If you are interested in becoming a qualified tour guide, check out our QQI level 6 Tour Guide course start dates here.

About the Author

Lecturing at Portobello Institute on the Tour Guide course is Jim Dempsey. Jim has over two decades of experience in the tourism industry and gives fascinating tours right across the country.

This is not Jim’s first encounter with the Portobello Institute.

“I did what was a Dublin City and Environs Badge in 2013 here. I did the national badge here in 2018.”

Jim has a somewhat unique set of credentials as a tour guide as he is only one of approximately 25 tour guides in Ireland to hold both of the aforementioned badges, both of which are accredited by Fáilte Ireland, in an industry of around 850 qualified tour guides.

When asked where his love for guiding comes from, Jim said:

“I always say the number one thing you need to have to be a good tour guide is to love the sound of your own voice. The other side of it then is you need to love the country, which I do”.

“I would be a very self-reflective person too.... So, I’m sharing my version of Ireland. The more you do that the more you realise this is a very personal thing. I really enjoy that.”

Tourism is a constantly evolving industry, Jim says, and the key to being a good tour guide is to evolve as a person alongside it.

“You have to stay very fresh. You must reinvent yourself every winter and I love the seasonality of it. So, teaching in the winter months is good because if you want to learn something, teach it. So, this is actually going to multiply my learning. I learn every year. I have taken courses in voice work, story-telling and specialist subjects like whiskey over the winter season.”

That constantly changing environment is one of the tougher aspects of the profession Jim believes. When asked what the most challenging thing is day-to-day, he says:

“Staying really fresh. Making people feel like this is the first tour guide you’ve ever done. Making people feel that they’re unique. Making people feel like you’re not just regurgitating something you’ve done a hundred times, which happens quite a lot. So, you have to stay on your toes. That’s probably the hardest part.”

Jim was resistant to answer where his favourite place to tour is.

“It would really be wherever I am today.”

However, after a gentle nudge, he settled on the West coast of Ireland and in particular the Dingle Peninsula.

“That’s where I began and put my tour guiding boots on. I know it very well. I’ve been going there for 20 years. It’s amazing seeing how that place has transitioned and it’s a very distinctive culture down there to the rest of Kerry.”

But he finds pleasure in touring across the country and enjoys every area he gets to work in.

“This country is very different. Each county is different when you get to know it. For me, travelling around Ireland is like travelling around the world.”

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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