Tour guides give visitors an inside view on animal behavior, their habitats, and why people should be concerned. They work at zoos, wildlife centers, national and state parks, safari parks, museums, and nature centers, giving visitors an overview about the animals and the environment, as well as a bit of history.
Tour guides must be comfortable around crowds. If you don't enjoy public speaking, consider another profession. You have to interact with your tour groups and be able to think quickly on your feet, as tourists will ask a wide range of questions. Enjoying activities such as being outdoors in all sorts of weather, performing before crowds, and answering questions are essential.
Most tour guides present programs about the area an animal is from, how it survives in the wild, how long its species has survived, what it eats, how it hunts, its mating habits, where it lives, and more.
Often tour guides work directly with animals. At local zoos, tour guides can work in a classroom or outdoors on the premises, showing and giving talks about specific animals. Some tour guides work on boats giving lectures to tourists about whales, dolphins, and other sea creatures. At state and national parks, guides conduct tours about the local flora and fauna.
Tour guides double as educators, and depending on the size of the institution, the tour guide may wear both hats. They teach the public about the animals, the location, and conservation efforts. Conservation is a big topic — now and for the future — which means that opportunities are opening up at many national and state parks.
If you like sharing information, but don't enjoy hiking, consider being a tour guide who gives tours by boat, horse, bicycle, bus, or minivan. You can also conduct driving tours through national forests.
Ecotourism is the fastest-growing area within the travel industry. Before you become an ecotour guide, it is a good idea to take a handful of nature trips to see if you like them. You can also learn a lot by being part of a tour group. Study how the tour guide mingles with the group and how he imparts his knowledge.
It is a good idea to have a bachelor's degree in animal sciences and conservation, but it is not mandatory. You must have an intimate knowledge of the location where you want to work. Taking some psychology classes is also a good idea because you will be working with people. Sometimes these eco-adventures can be awe-inspiring and life-changing, so knowing a bit about the human psyche helps.
A good tour guide keeps his audience in mind. Travelers today make up a wide range of people. You will get people who are interested in education and history, social travelers, nature travelers, campers, and weekend travelers. Knowing how to gear your talks to each specific group will make your job more rewarding.
To become a tour guide, contact several eco-adventure companies. Start with the International Ecotourism Society (
In addition to introducing tourists to animals and their environments, ecotourism enlightens tourists about cultural differences. People on ecotours often learn about the locales' environmental, social, and even political concerns. Host countries often benefit from ecotourism because tourists spend dollars, which go directly to the economy.
What's the fastest-growing travel business in the U.S.?
While ecotourism is just 5 percent of the travel industry, it is estimated to be a $77 billion market. More people are traveling to national parks now than in the past. Attendance at national parks rose from 256 million people in 1990 to 277 million in 2004.
Tour guides can earn anywhere from $20,000 a year to $45,000; this all depends on where you work. Tour operators — the owners of tour companies — earn a lot more money. To run a tour company, it is essential to have a business background as well as a background in wildlife services, biology, or animal sciences. Several universities offer tourism degrees. Most are under the label of hotel and tourism management. A successful tour operator can earn a six-figure annual salary.