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Going places

A tourist guide’s job will give you an opportunity to meet diverse people speaking different tongues from different corners of the world, reports Vimal Chander Joshi

education Updated: Apr 21, 2010 11:28 IST
Vimal Chander Joshi

A tourist guide’s job will give you an opportunity to meet diverse people speaking different tongues from different corners of the world.

Satish Kumar Goswami, vice president of Delhi’s Tourist Guide Association, feels awed when he meets high-profile clients. “Once I met the president of a big company in Saudi Arabia, who was an ardent Muslim, but was exploring Hinduism in India. It is always exciting to meet foreigners who are so curious about India,” says Goswami.

More than 50 lakh foreign tourists visited India last year, propelling tourism sector growth to eight per cent.

Avadhesh Narayan Mishra, a tourist guide who mostly caters to French tourists, thinks highly of the profession, thanks to the challenges and versatility it offers. “A tourist can question you on anything from Indian mythology to Mother Teresa. You have to read a lot to avoid cutting a sorry figure,” says Mishra.

“We (as tourist guides) help re-create the country’s image in the minds of foreign tourists who come with pre-conceived notions about India. They tend to believe what the foreign media tells them, which is at times incorrect.”

Mishra’s younger brother, also a guide, says “I worked as a company secretary in 1996. Then I learnt German and also worked as an interpreter before discovering the joy of being a tourist guide. It gives me the opportunity to travel all over the country.” He takes people for cultural tours of Buddhist monasteries in north India.

Though any graduate can become a tourist guide, it helps if you have a Bachelor’s in history. Non-history graduates can do one of the short-term courses in art and culture from the National Museum Institute (NMI), Delhi. Sultan Singh Deol, a guide, studied hotel management before he took the plunge in this field. Later he did short-term diploma courses from NMI.

Though it’s said a guide can earn only during the tourist season (September-October to March-April), Mishra says one can make good money for as long as eight months in a year. Also, to maximise their earnings, guides usually move out of station (Jaipur, Agra, Rishikesh, etc) often.

There are plenty of challenges. “Whatever (good or bad incident) happens to the tourist is attributed to the guide, so one needs to be on one’s toes all the time,” says Ashok Sharda, president of Tourist Guides’ Federation of India.

Women like Smidha Gupta choose this line for the flexible working schedule.

“The summer vacation is a lean season for us and I can spend time with my kids. Even during the season, I work for only for 20 days a month,” says Gupta.

What’s it about?
A tour guide provides assistance, information and cultural, historical and contemporary interpretation to travellers who might be individual clients or from educational establishments, at religious and historical sites, museums, and at other popular tourist sites. They can work in a city, travel all over the country and sometimes even take clients to places around the globe

The payoff
A tourist guide earns normally for six months a year. During that period, s/he can make Rs 50,000 to Rs 70,000 a month. For the rest of the year, work is minimal or almost non-existent. There are no fixed salaries but sometimes one can get generous tips and commissions. One can, however, never be too sure of the amount one can earn

Clock Work
8 am: Meet client(s) and discuss the day’s plan
9 am: Leave for sightseeing trip
11 am: Visit a monument and answer clients’ queries
2 pm: Lunch, normally with the client
3 pm: Leave for other destination(s)
4 pm: Explain the history and cultural importance of the place while responding to clients’ queries (if any)
6 pm: The tour continues till late in the evening
9 pm: Drop client back to hotel and ensure he is comfortable
9.30 pm: Go home

. Fluency in English or any other foreign language such as French, German, Russian, Chinese or Japanese
. Good communication skills. Your interaction with the tourists should make the client curious about the place
. Ability to work under pressure
. Be agile. Demonstrate presence of mind

How do i get there?
You have to clear entrance tests. The Indian Institute of Tourism and Travel Management conducts training programmes for the tourism ministry. It advertises in newspapers once in two years. To appear in the exam, you must be a graduate from a recognised university or have a (three-year) degree in tourism/ hospitality from a recognised university/ institute or a diploma in archaeology from the Institute of Archaeology, New Delhi or from any other recognised institution/university

Institutes & urls
. Indian Institute of Tourism and Travel Management, Gwalior

For foreign languages
. Jawaharlal Nehru University
. Central Institute of English and Foreign Languages, Hyderabad
. Alliance Francaise (for French)
. Max Mueller Bhavan (for German)

Pros & cons

Meet people from different countries and cultures


Travel to a lot of tourist destinations


Money is good but only for five to six months a year


Work is quite uncertain and depends on the volatile tourism industry

Learning is constant in this profession

A senior guide talks about the challenges and opportunities

What makes a tourist guide’s work different?
It is a glamorous profession. You travel a lot, stay in big hotels, and enjoy the company of people from diverse backgrounds. It’s enriching too. You have to be well read as your knowledge gets tested every time you are at work. The only element that bogs you down is the uncertainty involved in the profession. If a bomb blast happens in one part of India, the entire tourism sector suffers. So does our business. Every political, social and climatic deviation has a bearing on the earnings of a tourist guide.

You have been a tourist guide for more than two decades now. How has the time changed for guides?
Things have changed considerably. Earlier, the infrastructure didn’t support tourism the way it does now. There was no bus service from Delhi to Jaipur. If there was a group of 40 tourists, there was no way that all could be bundled together. But now there is a regular bus service. The hotel industry, too, has developed in recent times, which makes things easier for travellers. I still remember the time when there used to be only one dhaba on the Delhi-Agra highway, and now there are plenty of motels en route.

Which language should guides learn to woo the maximum number of tourists?
One can learn any language — French, Italian, German, Japanese and Russian. Nevertheless, English-speaking guides are the most common and those who are fluent in any foreign language earn Rs 300 to 400 per day over and above their normal fees.

Tourists are normally curious. How do you handle their relentless quizzing?
It’s true that our clients are quite inquisitive. We have to read up on history, archaeology, religion, politics and everything else about our country. I am a postgraduate in history from the University of Delhi and I still read books on history to keep myself updated. Currently I am reading Gulbadan Begum Ka Humayun Nama. You never stop learning in this profession.

Guides should also attend workshops, conferences and short courses, which add to their skills. The association organised a skill enhancement course on Buddhism in December last year. A similar course on Delhi’s heritage monuments was held sometime back.

Satish Kumar Goswami, vice president of Delhi’s Tourist Guide Association Interviewed by Vimal Chander Joshi