If you are confident, outgoing and love to travel, a career as a tour manager may suit you

Tour managers, sometimes known as tour directors, organise and accompany groups of holidaymakers on tours to a variety of UK and overseas locations. They are responsible for ensuring travel arrangements run as smoothly as possible and provide holidaymakers with practical support throughout their trip.

An in-depth knowledge of a particular area or region is essential and tour managers 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.

Responsibilities

As a tour manager, you'll need to:

  • accompany groups travelling by coach, or in some cases this may be by car, boat, train or plane
  • welcome groups of holidaymakers at their starting point and announce details of travel arrangements and stop-over points
  • check tickets and other relevant documents, seat allocations and any special requirements
  • help with passport and immigration issues
  • assist holidaymakers with check-in and settle them into their accommodation
  • communicate a range of information on itineraries, destinations and culture
  • inform passengers of arrival and departure times at each destination on the itinerary and ensure that all members of the group are back on the coach before departing from each stop
  • develop a specialist area of knowledge
  • use professional knowledge to answer questions from holidaymakers and to fulfil their expectations of the tour
  • make sure all travel arrangements run according to plan and that accommodation, meals and service are satisfactory
  • organise entry to attractions and transport, such as car hire
  • ensure that the tour is running smoothly for individual members of the group
  • respond to questions and offer 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
  • deal with emergencies, such as helping a holidaymaker who is ill or those needing to contact family members urgently
  • make contact in advance with places to stay or visit to check details and arrangements
  • liaise with hotels, coach companies, restaurants and other clients
  • advise about facilities, such as sights, restaurants and shops, at each destination
  • occasionally make accommodation bookings on proposed dates
  • organise and attend tourism events, conferences, workshops, seminars and exhibitions
  • write reports and maintain records
  • provide 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 work is often without supervision or an office base 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 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.

Qualifications

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

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

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
  • Greek
  • Italian
  • Portuguese
  • Spanish.

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
  • good health and physical fitness in order to cope with the demands of the job and the long working hours
  • 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
  • a first aid qualification would 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.

Attending some trade fairs and exhibitions will help you make contacts and get an insight into the industry. The Institute of Travel and Tourism (ITT) organises a variety of formal and informal events, for its members and these are good for networking and gaining knowledge about the industry. Student membership of key bodies also provides opportunities for networking and training.

Employers

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.

You can make speculative applications in the autumn, for tours in the following spring/summer.

You can find the contact details of many tour operators through professional bodies, such as:

Competition is keen so be proactive and look at travel brochures and websites for information on different companies. 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).

Look for job vacancies at:

Professional development

As a new tour manager you will usually attend a short induction course provided by your employer. This will include an introduction to the main destinations used and an overview of company policies and procedures. You may also do a 'shadow tour', where you will accompany 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, you will be expected to keep your knowledge up to date. For example, on the culture and recreational activities of a particular area, so that you can accurately inform holidaymakers when accompanying tours.

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

  • Institute of Travel and Tourism (ITT)
  • International Association of Tour Managers (IATM).

Career prospects

If you work for a large tour operator you may be able to progress to the position of tour manager/leader/supervisor, working solely on tour development or in other office-based managerial positions within the company.

Active membership of the 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.

You could go on to work in other areas of the tourism sector, such as within travel agencies, tourist boards or offices, and tourist information centres; or possibly set up your own tour operation business, either independently or through a franchise opportunity.