Tour managers organise and accompany groups of holidaymakers on tours to a wide variety of UK and overseas locations.

They are responsible for ensuring travel arrangements for holidaymakers run as smoothly as possible from beginning to end, as well as providing them with practical support throughout the trip.

Tour managers have in-depth knowledge of a particular area/region and may act as tour guides during the tour. On overseas tours, they use their language skills and knowledge, for example of the culture or history of an area, to ensure the tour goes smoothly and that holidaymakers enjoy themselves.

Most tour managers work on a self-employed basis for tour operators, ranging from international companies to small, special interest operators.

This is a demanding, varied and rewarding role.

Tour managers may also be known as tour directors.

Responsibilities

Tour managers usually accompany groups travelling by coach, although on specialist tours travel may be by mini-bus, car, boat, train or plane.

Duties usually include:

  • welcoming groups of holidaymakers at their starting point and announcing details of travel arrangements and stop-over points;
  • checking tickets and other relevant documents, seat allocations and any special requirements;
  • helping with passport and immigration issues;
  • assisting holidaymakers check-in and settle into their accommodation;
  • communicating a range of information on itineraries, destinations and culture;
  • informing passengers of arrival and departure times at each destination on the itinerary and ensuring that all members of the group are back on the coach before departing from each stop;
  • developing a specialist area of knowledge;
  • using professional knowledge to answer questions from holidaymakers and to fulfil their expectations of the tour;
  • making sure all travel arrangements run according to plan and that accommodation, meals and service are satisfactory;
  • organising entry to attractions and transport, such as car hire;
  • ensuring that the tour is running smoothly for individual members of the group;
  • responding to questions and offering help with any problems that arise, ranging from simple matters, such as directing a member of the group to the nearest chemist, to more serious issues, such as tracing lost baggage;
  • dealing with emergencies, such as helping a holidaymaker who is ill or those needing to contact family members urgently;
  • making contact in advance with places to stay or visit to check details and arrangements;
  • liaising with hotels, coach companies, restaurants and other clients;
  • advising about facilities, such as sights, restaurants and shops, at each destination;
  • occasionally making accommodation bookings on proposed dates;
  • organising and attending tourism events, conferences, workshops, seminars and exhibitions;
  • writing reports and maintaining records;
  • providing feedback after a tour as part of a debrief session.

Salary

  • Starting salaries for tour managers in full-time employment typically range from £15,000 to £20,000 plus board and lodging when on tour.
  • Experienced tour managers can expect to earn between £25,000 and £30,000.
  • Salaries for those at senior level or with extensive experience can be in excess of £30,000.

Pay is usually calculated per day, with rates and expenses varying between companies. Salaries vary considerably depending on the company, location/country visited and type of tour. Salary may be enhanced by commission and tips; the amount will depend on the clients and the tour. Industry conditions have an impact on salary levels.

The work is often seasonal, with more jobs available during the holiday periods. Tour managers may take on other work to boost income.

Income figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

As tour managers are responsible for holidaymakers throughout their tour, working hours are generally from early morning through until late in the evening, including weekends. You may be on call 24 hours a day in case of an emergency.

What to expect

  • Tour managers involved in the planning and organisation of tours or special interest holidays may be employed continuously, especially with large tour operators.
  • Tour managers are often self-employed, working on a freelance basis, moving from one tour to another.
  • The nature of the work means that tour managers are often working and living out of a suitcase, with frequent moves and without an office base.
  • Work may be at a variety of locations in the UK and overseas.
  • The work is often without supervision and there is usually considerable contact with clients.
  • Job levels are affected by the political and economic climate in the UK and overseas.
  • Tour managers need to be physically fit to deal with the long hours of work and to help passengers with luggage.
  • Tour managers are always on show during a tour so your appearance and clothing must be smart and your behaviour exemplary. Most tour managers wear a uniform.
  • The amount of free time available and opportunities to socialise vary, but this can be a very rewarding job balanced with the demands of working with people in variable circumstances.
  • Travel within a working day, absence from home overnight and overseas work and travel are all integral to the job.

Qualifications

Although this area of work is open to all graduates, the following degree or HND subjects may increase your chances:

  • travel/tourism/leisure studies;
  • history;
  • geography;
  • archaeology;
  • education;
  • modern languages;
  • business with languages.

Entry without a degree or HND is possible, though it can take time to build up the required level of experience.

A pre-entry postgraduate qualification is not needed.

Another route into this work is to train as an apprentice in the leisure, travel and tourism sector, for example as an overseas resort representative. For details, visit Travel Services Apprenticeships.

A good working knowledge of foreign languages is usually required for overseas work, especially:

  • French;
  • Italian;
  • Spanish;
  • Portuguese;
  • Greek.

Experience of living and working overseas is also useful.

Skills

You will need to have:

  • a pleasant, friendly manner with excellent people skills;
  • the ability to get on well with people of all ages and backgrounds;
  • a supportive, tactful and approachable manner;
  • good listening and questioning skills;
  • excellent planning and organisational skills;
  • self-confidence and the ability to inspire confidence in others;
  • the capacity to make decisions quickly and change arrangements as required;
  • the ability to work well under pressure and cope with emergencies;
  • independence;
  • a flexible approach to work;
  • energy, stamina and the enthusiasm to cope with different people's needs and demands over long, often irregular, working hours;
  • health and safety awareness;
  • an interest in geography and historical sites.

Good health and physical fitness are vital to cope with the demands of the job and long working hours. A first aid qualification may be helpful.

Work experience

Pre-entry experience, for example as a holiday representative on a tourist resort, is a useful stepping stone into tour management. Specialist knowledge, for example in the archaeology, history or culture of a particular region/country, is important. Experience of dealing with the public, particularly in the tourism sector, in a travel agency or tourist resort, is valuable.

Attend trade fairs and exhibitions to make contacts and to get an insight into the industry. A variety of events, which enable members to learn more about their industry and to network in both formal and informal settings, are organised by the Institute of Travel and Tourism (ITT). Student membership of key bodies also provides opportunities for networking and training.

Employers

Speculative applications are recommended in the autumn, for tours the following spring/summer. Competition is keen. Look at travel brochures for information on different companies.

Employers of tour managers range from large, national and international tour operators, to small, specialist tour companies organising package tours and specialist trips, such as sports tours, music tours and educational tours.

The more experienced tour managers are usually given the more lucrative tours.

To find out about how to approach tour operators, contact the International Association of Tour Managers (IATM).

Coach operators may also recruit tour managers. For a list of member operators, see the Guild of British Coach Operators.

Look for job vacancies at:

Speculative applications are useful. See the following websites for contact details of many of the tour operators:

Get more tips on how to find a job, create a successful CV and cover letter, and prepare for interviews.

Professional development

New tour managers usually attend a short induction course provided by their employer, including an introduction to the main destinations used and an overview of company policies and procedures.

In addition, new tour managers may do a 'shadow tour', accompanying a more established manager on a trip.

Some operators may offer those without relevant qualifications the opportunity to work towards travel and tourism vocational qualifications as part of their staff training and development programme.

Once in post, tour managers will be expected to constantly update their own knowledge, for example on the history or culture of a particular area, so that they can provide up-to-date information when accompanying tours.

Study tours, conferences and courses are offered by private providers and professional bodies, such as the:

The aim of study tours is to provide tour managers with in-depth knowledge and understanding of areas that are, or may become, popular regional tours.

Do your research to make sure that courses you are interested in meet your career requirements.

Membership of a professional association, such as the IATM, can be useful for networking and continuing professional development (CPD) opportunities.

Career prospects

Tour managers working for large tour operators may progress to tour manager leader or supervisor, working solely on tour development or in other office-based managerial positions within the company.

Some tour managers use their skills to gain work in other areas of the travel and tourism industry or, occasionally, start their own tour operation business.

Active membership of the International Association of Tour Managers (IATM) is open to tour managers with at least one season's experience. One season's experience qualifies tour managers for Silver Badge membership; five seasons' experience qualifies them for Gold Badge membership.

The IATM also offers the Certificate of Tour Management (CTM), which recognises the qualifications of experienced tour managers. The certificate is gained through a written and oral exam. Those who pass the examination become IATM Certified Tour Managers and may use the letters CTM after their names.

Larger companies are more likely to provide opportunities for managerial roles, team leading and research/planning positions. With greater experience in the industry comes increased opportunities and earning power.

Tour managers may choose to develop a career in other tourism-related areas such as travel agencies, tourist boards or offices, and tourist information centres.