Friday, October 26, 2012

Earn a Living as a Tour Guide

Meet Hans Georg Baumgartner, The Night Watchman of Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Germany.  He's the fellow in the photo left dressed in black holding the nasty looking weapon - an hellebarde, a medieval weapon that combines a seven foot long spear and axe used in the day to keep the local drunks in line.

From the earliest years of civilization in Europe until about 1920, night watchmen were common, working from 9:00 p.m. until 3:00 a.m., keeping an eye out for trespassers, drunks and especially fire.  Even though the citizens trusted him to keep the streets inside the high stone walls safe, his pay was low and his status lower. Only the gravedigger and the executioner were lower in status.

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     Herr Baumgartner is a Re-enactor, the highest form of tour guide in the industry.  The basic job is that of a Tour Guide, sometimes referred to in the tourism industry as a Step-on Guide, referring to the guides who "step-on" a tour bus to conduct a local tour.  To be employed or self-employed as a tour guide requires a prodigious knowledge of the local area combined with showmanship.  A related job is the Docent who usually works at a museum or destination.  In some cases these are volunteers, and in others, they are paid.  Again, deep knowledge and showmanship are required; most museums or other destinations provide basic training, though the more you know, the better you'll be. (And the higher the fees and the better the tips, a significant part of a tour guides income.)
At the top of the pecking order, and the most demanding by far, is the Re-enactor.  This is a professional who not only conducts the tour and answers questions accurately, they dress the part.  Some even go so far as to act the part.  The best re-enactors go into character while working. 

For example, the docent - re-enactors of Plimouth Plantation, MA,  play the roles of specific people from the earliest days of the pilgrim colony.  They speak like them, act like and of course, dress like them in authentic era garb.  Ask them who the king is, and they'll tell you.  (James I of England, son of Mary, Queen of Scots.)

Ask political or religious or social questions, or about the clothes they're wearing, or farming practices, or how they brew beer or the local Indian tribes and you'll get details accurate to the 1620's.  Try as you may to make them slip up, they know nothing of the common era.  (Trust me, I worked at it and got nowhere.  One re-enactor wanted to know if polyester was my aunt.)  As you might imagine, it takes both talent and hard work to get to this level of professionalism.  For information on Plimouth Plantation, visit:

Is there a viable business here for you?  In part, the answer depends on where you live.  Herr Baumgartner makes a living conducting two tours each evening from May through December annually.  And the basis of the local economy is tourism.  Historically, Rothenburg is unchanged for hundreds of years, and is probably the most authentic medieval experience you can have in Europe.

Starting a business of this nature requires a functioning tourism industry and enough visitors to have a realistic market.  In most cities of the world, tourism is seasonal.  And like any new business, there are start up costs in the form of research and marketing, plus costumes and the time and energy to get out and promote your business.  You don't have to start as a re-enactor, you can start as a tour guide and work your way up as you gain experience.  You don't have to eat the entire whale in one sitting.
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The National Association:  In early 1999, 12 local and regional guide organizations formed the National Federation of Tourist Guide Associations-USA (NFTGA-USA). The organization's purpose is furthering the profession and member businesses and tour guides.  As always, one of your first steps when starting a business is to contact the national association.  NFTGA-USA's website is:

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The Entrepreneur's Bookshelf ~
The more you know about small business management and financing before you start, the more likely you are to succeed.  That's why I urge anyone thinking of starting a business to contact their local Small Business Development Center or Community College.  I have also organized this bookshelf for you at Powell's Books, the world's largest single site new and used bookstore, featuring the latest books on small business start-ups, marketing, and small business money management.   
A Selection Related to this Post:

Click on this link to see all the selections on ~

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