Here are some frequently asked questions about training to become a Blue or Green Badge Tourist Guide. For more information about guide training please contact the Institute of Tourist Guiding.
What is the difference between the Blue Badge and a Green Badge?
Green Badge courses are for those interested in working at sites of interest and on walking tours in an area such as a town or city centre or specified countryside area. Blue Badge courses are for those interested in guiding visitors across an entire region or a major urban area either on walking tours, sites and using various methods of transport.
What range of tours can I provide?
Guides offer tours across a whole spoectrum of areas. They can offer highlights tours of major site, themed tours (eg film, music, art, medical, legal, literary, LGBTQ+ …) and bespoke tours depending on the clients requirements. They can work for tour operators, cruise ships, study tours or group tours. The Blue Badge qualification, in particular, offers significant flexibility in the type and mode of tours guides can provide.
Is there an age limit to becoming a guide?
Many people come into guiding from another career and therefore tend to be in their late twenties, thirties or forties. Some guides are considerably older. So, rather than a particular age, the prerequisites for guiding are stamina, good health and an outgoing personality, as guiding is often physically demanding, with early starts to the day and sometimes late finishes and requires a high level of focused engagement with both clients and practicalities.
Do you need a university degree?
Higher or further education is not required to be a guide. While many guide trainees do have a degree, it is important to understand that the training course is not a degree course; it is essentially a practical programme, combining core knowledge with regular and intensive practical training in the techniques and skills of professional guiding. Being a guide is not all about knowledge and facts; it is much more about the delivery of knowledge – the “art” of guiding – and about looking after and entertaining your clients.
How much does it cost?
The cost of Blue and Green Badge Tourist Guide courses vary across the country, depending on the complexity of the region and the duration of the course. For instance, a London Blue Badge Course can cost up to £10k, whereas a course in one of the smaller regions can cost up to £3k. Most courses run for 12-18 months and include: all course materials; online and in-person tutored sessions and lectures; on-site visits; business, health & safety and communication/presentation skills; mode of transport guiding and group management skills. The evening/weekend tutoring of the course, allows students to continue to work whilst studying. These are high level and professional courses which enable you to invest in a rewarding and flexible career as a professional freelance tourist guide.
Do you need to be able to speak a second language?
It is not essential. However, you should be aware that the English speaking market is the most competitive, and often those candidates with a second or third language have an advantage over those who speak English only.
Do I need to speak fluent English to do the course?
Yes. All the lectures and practical sessions are conducted in English.
I live outside the European Community. Would I be able to do the course?
You would need to hold either a UK visa with indefinite leave to remain or a UK work permit. You would also need to have easy access to the area you are training in to be able to follow the course.
What characteristics make a good guide?
People who become guides vary widely in their background, interests and temperament. However, the one essential characteristic they share is pleasure in working with people. Understanding the needs of the traveller and the stresses of travel (jet lag, nervousness of a large city, not being able to understand the language, personal problems) are essential. A guide is often the first significant human contact a newly-arrived tourist will make. In addition, good personal organisation, time management, flexibility, a good sense of humour, and coolness under pressure are all valuable assets.
How much do guides earn and can I make a living from guiding full time?
Earnings depend upon how much a guide works and the market(s) they work in. Almost all guides are freelance and self-employed. The work can be seasonal, with quiet periods at certain times in the winter. The level of work will also fluctuate with world economics and politics. Competition can be considerable but at the time of writing, demand for guides has significantly increased. Many guides choose not to work full-time or have a portfolio career.
Items such as a personal pension, National Insurance and Income Tax must be taken into account when calculating your likely earnings as a guide. Many guides, particularly those newly qualified continue to undertake some part-time employment, as it takes a while to establish yourself in the market place. Students and newly-qualified guides will therefore need to draw up a robust business development plan in order to attract and maintain a strong client base, not just in the early stages of their guiding career, but throughout. Annual income can vary from year to year, and a guide’s business plan will consequently need to be reviewed, updated and revised at regular intervals to ensure their business is sustainable, can develop and expand. Depending on the type of work undertaken and where, Blue Badge tourist guides can charge a range of fees. Please download our illustrative travel trade fees for 2023-24.
What kind of people become guides?
Many guides have a professional background, such as in teaching, accountancy, law, journalism, heritage, fine art or medicine. There are also many guides who come from various branches of the tourist industry or who have a theatre/acting background. In addition there are homemakers, horticulturists, police officers, postal workers, fire fighters, taxi drivers, civil servants, historians… The list is almost endless and always unpredictable.
How can I experience the work of a Blue Badge Guide?
The best way to find out about the work of a Blue Badge Guide is to join one of their tours! To do this, take a guided coach tour around London, many of which include visits to London sites such as Westminster Abbey, The Tower of London and St Paul’s Cathedral. First check that a Blue Badge Guide is taking the tour.
Where do I find out about courses available?
Visit the Institute of Tourist Guiding website for all current courses.