Tour Guide - Job opportunities
Kaiārahi Rōpū Haere
Tour guides escort people on sightseeing, educational or other tours, and describe points of interest.
Call us on 0800 222 733
Pay for tour guides varies depending on how many hours they work.
- Tour guides usually earn between $25,000 and $60,000 a year.
- Tour guides tend to be self-employed and work on short-term contracts.
- Many tour guides do not work year-round.
Source: Trade Me Jobs, 'July-December 2013 Salary Guide', 2013.
What you will do
Tour guides may do some or all of the following:
- escort people on trips or tours, including tours into natural areas
- describe and explain points of interest on the trip/tour
- arrange entry to places such as museums, government buildings and exhibitions
- answer questions and give out written information
- arrange or prepare meals and accommodation
- drive a vehicle such as a bus or coach
- act as an interpreter
- market their business (if it is a privately owned tour company).
Skills and knowledge
Tour guides need to have:
- knowledge of the area they cover and its features or attractions
- knowledge of New Zealand culture, history, society, geography, flora and fauna
- knowledge of other cultures
- good driving skills
- leadership and public speaking skills.
- may work a 40-hour week, or do shift work, including evenings and weekends, work part time, or work only during the peak season
- may work outside in all weather conditions, or inside a museum or other attraction
- may travel for their job, locally or nationally.
What's the job really like?
Eva Vaughan - Tour Guide
Tikanga sets the scene
"We practice basic Ngāpuhi tikanga [protocols] to honour where we are, to especially honour our manuhiri [visitors], and to set the kaupapa [order] for the tours."
"Overseas and New Zealand visitors are given a similar tour, delivered in a way they can relate to. We give them an understanding of who we are, who Māori are, and the area's significance."
Unveiling the past for locals
Eva particularly enjoys running trips for local school pupils. "The tour covers Māori and European settler history, archaeology – so they can make more of a connection to the place they live in. For instance, the majority of walkers on Parihaka, our ancestral Pa, go past the kumara pits and don’t realise what they are - and there are over 300 kumara pits.
An ancestral connection
Eva thrives on sharing the knowledge and stories passed down by her elders. "Being connected to the spirit and history of your hapu [tribe], brings the tour alive for your visitors – it’s fantastic, I love it. It’s a part of my life; it’s like the blood that runs through my veins.”
Eva Vaughan is of Ngāpuhi descent.
Trevor checks out a career in Māori tourism – 8.24 mins. (Video courtesy of Dave Mason Productions)
Clinton: Maori Tourism holds a special place within New Zealand’s tourism industry, providing visitors with a unique insight into Maori heritage and traditions, as well as interacting with it as a living culture. It has a long and illustrious history.
Te Taru: The Pink and White Terraces in the mid 1800’s were touted as the Eighth Wonder of the World. They were destroyed in 1886. Those people from the mountain at that time migrated here into the valley and this valley became the new tourism wonder for Aotearoa New Zealand. So we’re standing in some hallowed territory as far as tourism is concerned.
Clinton: Trevor’s first job is with Eden Doige, the operations manager at Tamaki Heritage Experiences. This operation hosts over 100,000 people each year in a re-created Maori village. Trevor’s first task will be to appoint the chief for the waka bringing the guests to the village.
Trevor: Kia ora, my name is Trevor. Is there a Pete in here?!
Trevor: Hi Pete! I hear that you’re chief tonight?!
Eden: We share our culture with the world. We take our people out on buses to the village - away from the commercialism of the city - a real village where a tribe lived around 400 years ago. So they go through all the formalities – the wero, the challenge, a chief is selected off each bus, we also entertain them in our whare nui where they go for a half an hour concert, and then they go up to the whare kai for dining.
Clinton: Now Eden sets Trevor his next task: telling visitors about traditional hangi cooking.
Eden: And when they come out just have a bit of fun with them and ask where they’re from and if they enjoyed their meal – which I’m sure they would have.
Trevor: I’m going to be showing you fullas how we prepared your fullas food that you fullas have just eaten.
Clinton: Well, his first run-through really needs a little fine-tuning for overseas ears.
Eden: Laughing Hey drop the slang! Don’t say “you fullas”!
Eden: Just say, “I’m going to be explaining to you how your food was prepared this evening”.
Trevor: It’s common, eh!
Clinton: After dinner it’s time for Trevor’s presentation.
Trevor: Did you fullas enjoy your meal?
Trevor: I’ll be demonstrating how we prepared you fullas meal today…
Trevor: …step number one, we dig a pit about a metre deep…
Te Taru: If you’re entering into this tourism I’m talking about, it’s about being proud of who you are, about being dignified in the way in which you express that, and dignified to me means understanding the values and virtues of your ancestors and giving it your best shot to bring that to the world. If you do that then it will be extremely rewarding for you and no one else can ever touch that – it will be a privilege for you and I would encourage you down that path.
Trevor: Alright, thanks guys! Kia ora!
Tourists: Kia ora!
Clinton: Well, Trevor’s passed his first test. The next morning he’s introduced to the guiding operation at Whakarewarewa by Guide Supervisor Paora Tapsell.
Paora: My job is organising, planning and scheduling for the guides that I have working for me and ensuring that they deliver the product and the package.
Clinton: Since the 1800’s the people of Whakarewarewa have been welcoming visitors to their unique geothermal village.
Paora: It’s been quite a journey to take people around it and show them how the people of the village utilised the resources and still maintained their traditions and culture.
Clinton: Trevor’s task is to tell the visitors about the cooking pool.
Trevor: This cooking pool here is called Parekohuru.
Paora: What we look for in a trainee is a cultural base that that would help them, and personality because you’ve got so many different faces that you talk to every time that you go out on tour.
Trevor: And we only cook vegetable in this pool because if you cook meat it will contaminate the water.
Clinton: To complement the guiding skills, Trevor will now get an insight into behind-the-scenes operations, with Piripi Inia, Reservations Manager at Te Puia.
Piripi: Te Puia is a tourist icon – the third most visited place in New Zealand. You’re looking at approximately 500,000 people coming through here to view geysers, hot pools, mud pools, the culture and also kiwi, kiwi bird.
Piripi: This is for tonight, and what you’re going to do is you’re going to go and deliver it to Rose.
Piripi: My job in reservations is the link between reservations and all other departments, so all information that comes towards me has to be correct so that I can enter it correctly and then disperse it out to the different departments.
Piripi: Kia ora, this is reservation for Te Puia…
Clinton: With his first task complete, Trevor moves onto his second – in his new speciality area: catering.
Piripi: Mereana…lovely. I need that menu for tomorrow.
Clinton: Trevor’s finding out the importance of paying attention to the small details.
Piripi: Can you repeat that to the young man again, please?
Mereana: They’ll be having hot chocolate, bread and dips…
Clinton: Trevor then runs through the revised menu with the Head of Marketing.
Trevor: This is for tomorrow…
Trevor: …O.A.T – kumara and cream cheese muffins.
Clinton: And it’s back to the kitchen to finalise the menu…
Piripi: There’s a change. We’re going to change it.
Clinton: So now that Trevor’s had a taste of operations and guiding, what did his mentors think of his work?
Eden: Trevor was great and I’ve even offered him a job next season if he wants to come back and he’s told me he’s pretty keen.
Piripi: He listens well, he picks up well, and as I say his personality will just shine through anyway.
Trevor: And overall, I think Maori Tourism is just the job for me.
Clinton: The primary entry point to Maori Tourism is as a guide, so cultural knowledge and people skills are important. There are further possibilities to specialise: in administration, marketing, and customer services. The National Certificate in Tourism (Core Skills Level 3) recognises the industry’s generic knowledge and skills required to work in all facets of the tourism and travel industries. There a number of further qualifications that can be studied for, including National Certificate in Tourism, Tour Guiding Level 4, and National Diploma in Tourism Level 5 for those who are working or aspiring to roles involving supervisory and/or business management responsibilities in the tourism industry.
There are no specific requirements to become a tour guide, as skills are gained on the job. However, tour guides can complete on-the-job qualifications such as the National Certificate in Tourism (Tour Guiding).
Tour guides who drive passengers need special licences
Tour guides who drive passenger vehicles need to have:
- their full Class 1, 2 or Class 4 driver's licence (depending on the size of the vehicle). Class 2 and 4 are heavy vehicle licences
- a 'P' (Passenger) endorsement on their licence, which shows they can carry passengers. Drivers need to have their full licence for at least two years before they can get the P endorsement.
You may need to apply for a visa through Immigration New Zealand
If you are not a New Zealand citizen or resident, you may need to apply for a specific purpose work visa before you arrive in New Zealand to work as a tour guide.
If you are a tour guide who is a Chinese national, you may be able to apply under the China Special Work Category. You can apply from within New Zealand if you hold a valid work or student visa.
People wanting to work in ecotourism can do the following certificates:
- Tai Poutini Polytechnic (Greymouth) offers a Level 4 Certificate and a Level 5 Diploma in Ecotourism
- NorthTec Polytechnic (Northland) offers a Level 4 Certificate in Marine Adventure and Eco-Tourism.
- New Zealand Transport Agency website - information on passenger endorsements
- New Zealand Transport Agency website - information on driver licensing
- NorthTec Polytechnic website - information on courses
- TVNZ website - watch a Just the Job episode about tour guide duties and training (episode 1, chapter 2)
Useful subjects include English, maths, Asian or European languages and Māori.
Secondary school students may have the opportunity to take part in the ServiceIQ Gateway travel programme. Students earn NCEA credits while doing work experience in the travel industry.
Tour guides need to be:
- good communicators, friendly, outgoing and able to put people at ease
- polite, patient and professional
- helpful and perceptive to visitors' needs
- able to relate to people from a wide range of cultures and backgrounds
- good at planning, organisation and time management.
Useful experience for tour guides includes:
- work in the tourism and hospitality industries
- experience as a volunteer host at museums or other attractions
- work involving contact with the public and people from other cultures
- public speaking
- travel experience.
Tour guides need to be reasonably fit as they may do a lot of walking or physical activities. They may also need to lift heavy luggage onto buses or coaches.
View information on courses in the course database
Find out more about training
- 0800 863 693 - www.serviceiq.org.nz
- Museums Aotearoa
- (04) 499 1313 - email@example.com - www.museums-aotearoa.org.nz
- ProGuides New Zealand Inc
- firstname.lastname@example.org - www.proguides.co.nz
- Tourism Industry Association NZ (TIANZ)
- (04) 499 0104 - email@example.com - www.tianz.org.nz/
What are the chances of getting a job?
According to Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment estimates, the number of tour and museum guides decreased by about 3% between 2010 and 2012.
Summer best for finding work
It is easier to get work between November and April, when more tourists visit New Zealand, but those jobs are often casual, and the amount of work depends on bookings. Little work is available in New Zealand for full-time guides between May and October.
Communication skills and foreign languages help your chances of getting work
Employers prefer tour guides who have:
- a good knowledge of New Zealand history, geography and culture
- the ability to convey this knowledge appealingly to a wide range of clients
- some ability to speak a foreign language.
Employers of tour guides include:
- private tour companies
- wildlife sanctuaries and some government departments, such as the Department of Conservation (ecotour guides).
Tour guides may run their own businesses and market their services directly to the public, or to tour companies.
- Department of Labour, ‘2003-2013 Occupation Data’ (prepared for Careers New Zealand), 2013.
- ProGuides New Zealand website, accessed June 2014, (www.proguides.co.nz).
- Tourism New Zealand website, accessed June 2014, (www.tourismnewzealand.com).
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Other vacancy websites
Progression and specialisations
Tour guides can go on to work as:
- consultants to tourism businesses
- managers, marketers or owners of tourism businesses
- tour package co-ordinators.
How many people are doing this job?
Job vacancies by region
Updated 6 Mar 2015