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The cost of ‘free’

As a visitor, you might have seen websites and leaflets advertising ‘free’ walking tours. There are a number of London tours like this and they have now spread to other major tourist centres including Brighton, Bristol, Cambridge, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Liverpool, London, Manchester and Oxford. Some of the companies who run these walks remunerate their unqualified ‘guides’ (often students) solely through the tips generated – but deduct mandatory marketing expenses from the total before paying out. Many visitors complained about feeling pressured into giving tips.

The British Guild of Tourist Guides believes that tourists are at risk of being exploited by unscrupulous operators offering these attractive sounding ‘free’ tours that may turn out to be anything but. The Advertising Standards Authority has been investigating the marketing of these ‘free’ tours and has just published its ruling, which clarifies and restricts potentially misleading advertising to help make sure that customers know how ‘guides’ are remunerated.

  • Tours should only be advertised as “free” if it is provided with no mandatory cost to the consumer, upfront or otherwise.
  • If a discretionary payment will be sought, this should be stated in any advertising for the ‘free’ tour.
  • It should be clear in ads that discretionary payments are entirely voluntary.
  • If discretionary payments aren’t kept in full by the guide, that should be made clear in the advertising.

If you’re looking for a walking tour, try to make sure that you go on one run by properly trained guides, such as the Blue Badge and Green Badge holders who are members of the Guild. These are all self-employed professional guides, who have met rigorous training standards set by the independent Institute of Tourist Guiding, the industry’s officially recognised standard-setting body. They also have safety training and public liability insurance. Guild members take care of more than 1.5 million tourists each year.

If you’re looking for a guide for a private walking tour, you can find hundreds of guides here who will be delighted to help.

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