The Travel Detective

How One Guided Tour Company Trains its Tour Directors

guidedtourNo matter which destination you choose for your next trip, that destination is important. But when it comes to escorted or guided tours, it’s the tour guide that makes the difference. So how is that tour guide chosen? Or, more importantly, how is that tour guide trained?

It’s not just about having local knowledge. The training for tour directors involves absorbing essential and necessary information that goes beyond the guidebooks. It also includes studying basic human behavior.

We tagged along with one company—Trafalgar Tours—as it put its tour directors through the paces. In the tour guide business, it’s all about anticipating basic human needs, as well as the inevitable human complaints.

One of the main topics these travel directors are studying is psychology—specifically what motivates human behavior. For the trainers, it’s critical information that can often make the difference between a great escorted travel experience and a nightmare vacation.

Nikki Cakebread, Professional Development Manager at Trafalgar, stated: “When I came, I saw there was a need to bring in customer service training—and other people skills—to the role.”

At Trafalgar, all 500 of the company’s frontline people are required to take a professional development program. It’s eight days long and filled with workshops focused on guest needs, preferences, and complaints. It also includes a mandatory course on CPR.

The training program at Trafalgar comes at a pretty hefty price. Typically the company spends about $2,000 per tour director. But for Trafalgar it’s worth it, especially when it comes to role reversal. That’s when the fun happens—when the tour directors get on the bus as tourists.

Watch a clip from season three of The Travel Detective to learn more about how Trafalgar trains its tour directors—and what they learn from their experiences as tourists.

By Peter Greenberg for