Tour Guide Syllabus

Curriculum title: Tour Guide Training at natural sites

Course Format: Flexible – adaptable to needs and circumstances


o   To provide a flexible and widely adaptable framework for tour guide training primarily at natural, but also at other heritage sites.

o   To ignite thinking about the potentials of tour guiding, so tours will become an effective tool in site and visitor management.

o   To provide guidelines on the actual organization and implementation of tour guide training, as well as monitoring and follow-up actions.

o   Disambiguation of terms.

Theoretical approach: The concept of tour guiding

Suggests mutuality and creates a cycle.

o   It is a form of interpretation.

o   It is a communication opportunity bw. site management and audience.

o   It is a management tool.

o   It is an educational opportunity.

Main components of tour guiding 



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Be it a forest, a meadow, a river, a cave or any other natural site they all have a story to tell. While our visitors might come ―only‖ for regeneration or relaxation, once they engage in a guided tour they are certainly open to hear that story. This way the type of guided tour we promote is much more than using the site as a resource, but it definitely should have the mission to safeguard the sustainable use of the asset(s) and communication of the underlying meanings and the full-scale sense of the place. Also the central attraction can be an ambassador to further natural and cultural assets in its environment. Guided tours are also tools to present the full context. Approaching an attraction with the bigger picture in mind should also include the consideration of carrying capacity of the attraction and its environment. In this respect it is not only ecological carrying capacity we should not compromise, but also physical, social, economical to name only the most important aspects.


The basic rule of any interpretive activity is ―Know your VISITOR.‖ This way the cycle of tour guiding figure (see above) applies in a reverse situation, i.e. how interpreters‘ behaviour can change (towards visitors) as a result of learning about the audience and the attitude change it should cause. To put it more pragmatic, if we know who participate in our guided tour, we can adapt our programme to their needs, requirements, knowledge level, abilities, motivations, agendas, etc., while we can achieve our objectives. As admitting visitors at heritage sites is still often considered merely as a tourism issue, data collection and surveys on visitors are often restricted to the service/business side of it (e.g. demographics, socio-economic characteristics, numbers and satisfaction). While these are very important features, not looking into the learning-knowledge-attitude-behaviour cycle or even specific links within it gives a quite lop-sided result. In fact, it is not easy at all, but only this way can we reveal deeper connections and efficiency of our activities.


As tour guiding is a live or personal form of interpretation (just like a lecture or a presentation), the presence of an interpreter, i.e. TOUR GUIDE is indispensible. He/She is another key figure: the front line representative of the organization, the embodiment of credibility, authenticity and knowledge, but also the one looking after, serving and directing visitors. If all these qualities and roles of a guide were acknowledged, probably it would be a much more respected position. The advantage of this interpretive form is that real conversation/communication/ interaction can develop, thus many experts consider this one of the most effective interpretation forms.

The structure of the tour guide training course

Preparatory phase

Some key issues have to be clarified before starting to organize a tour guide training course:

The need for training:

– Why is the training necessary?

– What market needs it would serve?

– Is it a demand within the organization or maybe the would-be trainees approached your organization?

– Who are the trainees?

– Candidates will be familiar or rather unfamiliar with the lexical and technical knowledge on a very different level and their specific skills have to be enhanced.

– Also, the trainees‘ motivation might be very different: some seek employment, others some sort of adventure, and yet others more professional services or simply fulfilment in personal interests.

– As all personal services, tour guiding too is a form of employment. Local people might find an alternative or second or even the only job opportunity in tour guiding. Other advantages of local tour guides are that they have a sense of ownership of, emotional link to the place, thus they offer a special insight and authenticity. Either way, involving locals in tour guiding supports sustainable tourism in a region. Of course, ―outsiders‖ can become excellent guides, but including local colour in guiding programmes is always a treat.

– A minimum set of criteria has to be set how applicants are accepted to the course (e.g. minimum age, minimum educational  attainment, etc.), or a clear and transparent method how to select them. There should be a very good and objective explanation for why anyone is refused not to risk compromising the project right at the beginning.

– Minimum and maximum number of participants.

– A mixed composition of participants brings in all sorts of personalities, qualities, knowledge, competence, etc.

Who are the trainers?

– The content of the training, eventually the necessary knowledge and skills and their depth will determine what types of trainers are to be involved.

– Does the staff of the organization have the necessary knowledge and skills to provide all the training, or is it necessary to invite specialists?

– It is recommended to use local skills whenever possible.

– Teaching and communication skills of trainers.

How is the training arranged?

There are subsets of this question to be investigated.


– How many hours the course will be and what is the length and frequency of the training sessions? Considering trainees‘ capacities and schedule, as well as how they can reach the course venue (e.g. public transportation time-table).

– Off-season is the reasonable time of any training.On the other hand some spectacles, such as flowers, birds cannot be seen for real during the course, so it is worth allocating some occasions in the vegetation period.

– If there are follow-up training sessions, it is worth scattering them throughout the year in order to gain an insight in different aspects of nature.

– Does the training include staying overnight? If so, what is the venue? Anyhow, if a training session exceeds 3-4 hours some sort of catering should be provided.


– It comfortably has to hold the whole group, has to have minimum comfort facilities and sufficient equipment.

– The venue can change throughout the course. It can even be an opportunity for participants to familiarize with different sites and with different settlements.

– A very important training ―venue‖ for nature guides is nature itself, so field trips should definitely be part of the curriculum.


Different approaches and methods, depending on various factors, e.g. who organizes the course and for whom, if the course can be implemented with in-house or invited trainers, etc.

– As tour guiding is very likely to generate income for the would-be guides on the long run, taking a training course is a kind of investment, so some tuition fee can be charged. Also, what is free of charge is usually less valued.

– If a course is organized for local unemployed people with the intention to employ the most talented few, a free course might be a good educational opportunity to make your organization more accepted and even transparent within local communities.

– There are more sophisticated methods to compensate or pay back partially or fully the tuition fee provided the trained guide does use the newly acquired skills, and there is an organized form of monitoring this activity. This way the financial arrangement can become a motivation factor, as well.

Transparency of the course:

– For the best possible results communicating with and encouraging applicants, participants and trainers to share their ideas, concerns is much recommended, so no hidden agenda undermines the outcome. Thus, besides good planning one has to be adaptive to the particular group and individual needs.

– Candidates should be aware of what they can expect before, during and after the course.

– At some points trainers should be aware of what the others will be talking about in some details, the elaboration of module descriptors will help to reduce overlaps between modules. Still one or more staff meetings before, during and after the course will help to achieve the best coherence of the training.


It is already a statement on the organizer‘s part, and has a lot to do with transparency, thus the following should be included:

– the criteria and form to apply,

– the type of certificate you will provide and how it can be used in the future

– at least the bullet-points of the course content,

– the timeframe of the course (total hours, dates, start and end time of the training sessions),

– the name of the trainers and their subjects,

– if there is an exam and its main features (oral/written/ practical; dates; the marking scheme etc.) or the closure of the training,

– the presence/absence policy,

– what materials will be provided,

– what equipment should participants bring with them or if they are provided,

– in case of overflow of applications, the criteria for selecting actual participant (which might be as easy as ‗first come, first served‘, but can include more utilitarian considerations),

– contact person(s) and contact(s) – it is better to have only one responsible focal point to contact both for the trainees and the trainers

The call for application and the application form should be made publicly and easily available.

Enough time should be allowed both for spreading the word that such a course is coming up, and also before the training starts to process applications.

Everyone should be thanked for their application and both positive and negative decisions should be confirmed. Running the course Introduction

– Introduction of participants and trainers.

– Introduction of the course and its contents.

– Questions, answers.

Theoretical background of tour guiding

– The definition and history of tour guiding

– The importance and functions of guiding today

– Categories of guided tours based on mode (i.e. non-motorized ways, such as hiking, cycling, boating, caving, cross-country skiing or snow-shoeing, horse riding), difficulty (i.e. physical fitness, technical equipment, terrain), length (adjusted to the difficulty level), duration, aim and their description The policy of tour guiding, institutional and legal framework

– Organizations active and initiatives in tour guiding in the region with a national (possibly international) outlook

– The legal environment of tour guiding – nature conservation, cultural, tourism:

o international strategies and conventions, laws;

o national legislation

o national standards and guidelines related to tour guiding

– Regional/local strategies and management plans The natural history of the target area

– Geographical situation, borderlines

– Climatic features and their effects

– Geology, hydrology and soil characteristics

– Botanical assets

– Zoological assets

– Ecology

– Nature conservation problems, potential dangers and their possible remedies

– Nature conservation organizations The cultural and human aspects

Even though these approaches might seem less relevant in nature guiding, in fact, to present a region or landscape requires a holistic approach and it also supports the understanding of the sense of the place.

– History of the region (in a broader context), archaeology

– Land use and human-nature interaction (although this can easily be discussed under the ―natural history‖ heading, as virtually no land untouched by man has remained in Europe, what more, anthropogenic landscapes and habitats can be of high ecological value, this feature is listed here)

– Anthropology and ethnography

– The tangible heritage (e.g. architecture, traditional utensils and objects, etc.)

– The intangible heritage (e.g. traditions, music, dance, literature, etc.)

– Cultural organizations Tourism issues

– System of tourism (international and national context) with local/regional focus

– Services, programmes and products

– Assets, attractions and sites

– Tourism stakeholders and their roles (businesses, GOs and NGOs)

– The infrastructure of tourism

– The infrastructure of guided tours (trails, signs, picnic areas, equipment shops, hire and repair shops, etc.)

– Site specific information available to visitors and media forms

Visitor studies

Here the presentation of theoretical knowledge and some level of practice should be combined.

– Target groups and their segmentation – the visitor profile; individual visitors and clustering them into visitor groups

– Abilities and fitness with respect to the tour

– Cognitive characteristics and the learning process

– Psychological characteristics

– Visitors needs, motivations and wants

– Mapping and monitoring visitor experience and satisfaction

– Problem solving and conflict resolution Interpretation

Here the presentation of theoretical knowledge and practice should be combined.

– Planning routes and guided tours

– Theme and message development and delivery

– Organizing the group (from meeting a group and conducting the tour to finishing the programme) and group dynamics

– Communication skills (verbal and non-verbal)

– Using realia and other demonstrative techniques

– Communicating competence and authenticity; sustaining leadership

Technical issues

This is a section that can be very different content-wise depending on the mode of the tour, and the curriculum does not aspire to provide specific guidelines here. As this point requires specialist knowledge and input, and to some extent e.g. horse-back riding competence is a precursor to participate in horseback tour guide training this section is to be adapted to the particular needs. Still some general content requirements can be stated. Here the presentation of theoretical knowledge and practice should be combined.

– Necessary equipment and their use (for guide and visitors)

– Health and safety (potential dangers and avoiding them, first aid, rescue basics, emergency contacts, avoiding accidental and deliberate human damage, etc.) Practicals and field trips

It is absolutely essential to include on site visits. Doing so during the training gives a very precious insight for trainees, as they can take both the visitor‘s and the guide‘s perspectives at the same time.

Participants should be encouraged to join guided tours in their free time, so they can learn from already established guides in action. It can easily build a ―master‖ and ―apprentice‖ or rather a mentoring relationship between guides and trainees that can sustain when they work together. Before the exam and closing the taught part

Some sort of exam should definitely close the training.

Latest at this point, trainees should be provided with all training materials. A summary of the course and reflecting on its objectives can clarify a lot of things, but definitely participants have to have an opportunity to ask their questions, too.

Enough time should be allowed, proportionate to the learning material for participants to prepare for the exam.


Trainees should be fully aware of the course of the exam(s). For transparency, participants have to be informed about the following:

– Who the members of the exam board are.

– Type of written exam; list of oral exam questions; method of practical exam.

– Time constraints.

– Marking scheme and minimum pass requirements.

– Exam discipline and consequences.

– How to appeal.

– Re-sit possibilities and requirements (after how much time, if fee applies, etc.), limits of occasions. Closing the training

Evaluation sheets from trainees and trainers – it is a good way to receive mutual feedbacks, so successful features can be carried on with, while less successful ones can be improved.

Issuing certificates should take place within a reasonable time after the exams and evaluations. It can be in a form and/or part of a community event, but mailing them should be your last resort. Monitoring and follow-up course(s)

For best result in using human resources and gained knowledge, it is warmly recommended not to let certified trainees‘ (and even drop-out applicants‘) hand go even if they are not employed, or they do not engage in tour guiding immediately.

Different levels and different directions of tour guide training can be developed, and renewing certification every 2-3 years can be required as there are always novelties to keep pace with. System approach safeguards transparency and that the same students will keep coming back for renewal trainings, or training for different levels or special skills.

Glossary of terms:

Below some useful terms linked to tour guiding are defined and explained. Here are the links that have been consulted. Some definitions have been fully borrowed and some further refined for the purposes of this very project. glossary


A person or group of persons for whom messages and/or services are designed or delivered. Synonymous terms might include: visitors, learners, customers, users, recreationists, stakeholders, guests, buyers, consumers, clients, patrons.


The recognition of an individual who maintains a standard of professional practice. Sometimes used to recognize a program, product or service that maintains or meets an established standard.


A process by which information is exchanged through a common system of symbols, signs, language, or behavior.


Resource—An ethic of planned management of a natural resource or a particular ecosystem based on balancing resource production, use, allocation, and preservation to ensure the sustainability of the resource.

Object—Maintenance and preservation of works of art, artifacts or objects, their protection from future damage, deterioration, or neglect, and the repair or renovation of works that have deteriorated or been damaged.


Prescribed standards that enable people to perform successfully by achieving specific outcomes and completing tasks effectively. A competency may consist of knowledge, skill, ability, attitudes, values, and/or personal characteristics.


Typically refers to a written plan outlining what students will be taught (a course of study). Curriculum documents often also include detailed directions or suggestions for teaching the content. Curriculum may refer to all the courses offered at a given school, or all the courses offered at a school in a particular area of study.

(Adapted from Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development)

Environmental Education

A learning process that increases people‘s knowledge and awareness about the environment and associated challenges, develops the necessary skills and expertise to address the challenges, and fosters attitudes, motivations, and commitments to make informed decisions and take responsible action. (UNESCO, Tbilisi Declaration, 1978)


Education is the process of developing an individuals‘ knowledge, values and skills and encompasses both teaching and learning.


A mission-based communication process that forges emotional and intellectual connections between the interests of the audience and meanings inherent in the resource. (National Association for Interpretation)


A person who employs a mission-based communication process that forges emotional and intellectual connections between the interests of the audience and meanings inherent in the resource.


Technique that assists audiences through communication media in making both emotional and intellectual connections with heritage resources.

Interpretive Program

Activities, presentations, publications, audio-visual media, signs, and exhibits that convey key heritage resource messages to audiences. (Adapted from US Fish & Wildlife Service)

Interpretive Services

Any personal or non-personal media delivered to audiences.

Interpretive Theme

A succinct, central message about a topic of interest that a communicator wants to get across to an audience.

Managing organization

An organization that is legally responsible for the operation and handling of a given site.

Natural Resources

Physical properties, materials, and on-going ecological processes that include but are not limited to air and water atmospheric resources, marine and freshwater systems; geologic features and processes; biological entities and systems; natural sound; day and night sky features and relationships; seasonal and celestial fluctuations; and natural interactive processes.

Personal Interpretation

One person or persons proving interpretation to another person or persons.

Public/ general public

The community at large, without reference to the geographical limits.

Tour guide

A tour guide is a person who is knowledgeable about a resource and is skilled in teaching others about that resource, and often accompanies visitors from place to place in the area of the resource. A person normally possesses an area-specific qualification usually issued and/or recognised by the appropriate authority.

Tour guiding

An interpretive programme when an insightful explanation of the attraction and/or site is provided by the tour guide. It can last any time less or more than a day. Depending on the mode of tour it can also include some technical guidance, as well.


Someone travelling to and staying in places outside their usual environment for not more than one consecutive year for leisure, business and other purposes.

Tourist attraction

It is a place, object or phenomenon of interest that tourists visit, typically for its inherent or exhibited cultural value, historical significance, natural or built beauty, or amusement opportunities.


The systemic process of developing knowledge, skills, abilities, and attitudes for current or future jobs through formal or informal learning experiences.


A visitor is a traveller taking a trip to a main destination outside his/her usual environment, for less than a year, for any main purpose (business, leisure or other personal purpose) other than to be employed by a resident entity in the country or place visited. A visitor (domestic, inbound or outbound) is classified as a tourist (or overnight visitor), if his/her trip includes an overnight stay, or as a same-day visitor (or excursionist) otherwise.

Visitor Studies

The interdisciplinary study of human experiences within informal education settings; the systematic collection and analysis of information or data to inform decisions about interpretive exhibits and programs; measuring or assessing the effects of museum exhibitions and/or interpretive programs and media on learners.

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