Would you like to show people around your corner of the country or your hometown and earn money as a local tour guide?
It used to be difficult to set up and run a guide business; connecting with customers coming from far away was perhaps the biggest challenge. But you no longer have to convince travel agencies to recommend your services or design and print fancy brochures.
Now you can sign up and connect with travelers on one of several online platforms, even if you have no experience. And some guides make up to $60 per hour showing people the sights.
Curious? Here’s how four of the online tour guide platforms work.
Shiroube (pronounced shi-ru-bé) means “to be a guide” in Japanese, but community manager Ben Thrui explained that as a guide in their “peer-to-peer tourism marketplace” you may receive requests outside the usual touristy options.
“We’ve seen recent huge growth in business travelers who need foreign business help, using our site to find locals for their business needs such as attending a conference or trade show, interpretation and so on,” Thrui told me. “We also received a request from an adventure traveler who wanted to cross a sea strait by sea kayak, and he needed some local help in that area.”
Other services you can offer include language lessons and nature hikes. But Thrui pointed out that rather than being a typical tourist, a Shiroube customer is more likely to be a “historian, food writer, adventure tourist, mountain hiker, business traveler, street musician and so on.”
“Our goal is to build a new market… based on the power of local people and what they can provide as a tourism service,” said Thrui. As part of that “new market” Shiroube does two things differently from other guide platforms:
1. Shiroube doesn’t charge guide fees
2. Shiroube doesn’t collect payments from travelers
It’s up to you to negotiate your rates and collect money from clients. That bit of extra work means saving the guide fee, which on other peer-to-peer websites can be as high as 30% of what the traveler pays.
At the moment Shiroube is not one of the big players in the United States. “We launched the service for an international tourism market, where Europe and Asia are the two largest markets,” explained Thrui. “However, we’ve been seeing strong demand arise from the U.S so we are preparing a marketing campaign in the U.S.”
In other words, with very few Shiroube guides in the U.S. and a marketing campaign on the way, now might be a good time to sign up as a guide.
Of course, you’re not limited to using only one online tourism marketplace, so let’s look at a few others…
When you sign up as a guide with Vayable, you’re called an “Insider.” As the company’s website explains:
Vayable Insiders are independent people who create unique experiences to share with others. Anyone with unique knowledge, skills or access can earn money offering an experience as a Vayable Insider. Vayable carefully vets all Insiders for quality and safety.
Their guides include students, writers, musicians, architects, poets, dancers and more. As a guide you are supposed to “provide cultural enrichment, education and a good time.” Here are some examples of what you might offer:
- A tour of the famous buildings in a city
- A trip through local wineries
- A nightclub tour
- A shopping expedition
- A hiking trip
- Any other experience visitors might want
Suppose you offer a four-hour tour of a ghost town near Denver, Colorado for $300. When Vayable sets up a package for travelers headed to Denver and they request your tour, the company will get in touch with you. If you’re busy, you can simply say no. Otherwise, Vayable makes the arrangements and takes 15% of your fee; $45 in this example. You’re paid the remaining $255 by direct deposit to your bank account within 24 hours of giving the tour.
On average, Vayable guides earn $250 per tour, of which they take home $212 after the fee, according to a Forbes article. It’s not clear what the average tour length is, but then, that’s up to you.
3. Rent a Local Friend
I previously reported on Rent a Friend, a website where you can sell your “friendship.” in various forms, we noted that some users basically need a person to show them around town. Since you can accept or reject any friend requests and charge what you like, you can essentially sell your services as a tour guide on Rent a Friend.
But on Rent a Local Friend, you’re explicitly selling your services as a tour guide. In fact, when you sign up as a Local Friend you’ll read that, “You MUST know the main aspects of your city: history, culture, geography, main buildings, politics etc. as an informed local.” Instead of designing a “concept tour” (as you do with Vayable), you set up an individualized itinerary according to each visitor’s interests.
Rent a Local Friend charges a $100 annual subscription, which gets you a page on their site and help with marketing. Travelers pay 30% of the tour price on the site and 70% to you at the end of your tour. For example, if you charge $300 for the day, the client will have paid $90 already, and your payment is the $210 you collect at the conclusion of your tour.
It takes a bit more work to sign up with ToursByLocals. They do two telephone interviews to see if you have the necessary qualifications, do a reference and background check, and confirm that you agree with their business principles. Then they confirm that you meet any local legal requirements to give tours.
The latter qualification is easy in most cases. On many pages of the site they say “the majority of states do not require a guide to have a license.” The same is true of most cities, although the local exceptions they note are New York City, New Orleans and the District of Columbia.
Tours by Locals doesn’t charge guides any upfront or subscription fees. They take a percentage of your tour fees, and although they don’t specify how much on their website, one source says it’s 20%. In exchange, they offer tools, training and $3 million in liability insurance.
In order to see the kinds of tours on offer, I searched for the closest guide to me, “Elena V” in Sarasota, Florida. She offers tours in Sarasota, Tampa and Orlando. The only option with a customer rating (five stars) was her Sarasota Airport Layover Tour, a four-hour excursion during which she’ll “show you the highlights of my city during daylight or nightlife!”
She charges $450 for this tour (not per-person, but for a group if there is one). At the end of the tour, she takes her clients back to the airport, hotel or wherever they like. Looking at her schedule it appears that she works only weekends.
If you know your city and like showing people around, you might be able to make good money as a local tour guide, even if you’re only available on weekends. Could this be the side hustle for you?
Your Turn: Would you consider being a local tour guide to make some extra income?