Prefer to listen & watch? See the video version here
With the rise of audio tours and virtual tours, I'm often asked if I think travelers will continue to need a local tour guide.
In this question, we seem to forget that guides are evolving along with the rest of the travel industry. While the all-knowing-lecturing guide carrying a bright flag is still the norm in many parts of the world, you can increasingly find off-the-beaten-path tours based on guides' personal passions. Even more exciting, there's recently been an increasing amount of guides dedicating themselves to revealing a more diverse history on tours instead of just sticking to a generic script. I believe that so long as guides continue to progress, guides will continue to best whatever a traveler can get out of a self-guided tour.
In this article, I'll lay out exactly why a local tour guide is hard to replace.
Why you'll always need a local tour guide.
A great tour guide is seemingly flexible (even if on the inside we're secretly stressing over getting you to the next stop on time...). They'll try to get to know the traveler so that they can customize the tour's content to their interests. See a shop you like that's not on the tour? They can bring you inside, tell you a bit about what's being sold, translate between you & the shop keeper, etc. A tour app can't create customized content on the fly.
While tour guides work hard to be a-political, you can have the same tour be completely different depending on the tour guide who gives it. Guide are living, changing people who have a unique background, life experience and outlook on the world. That alone gives beautiful color and depth to any tour.
Some of the best tours I've been on have ended with deep conversations over heavy topics I never thought I'd get into with someone who was, until recently, a complete stranger.
Logistics are rarely a tour guide's friend. Sudden street fairs, entrances moved due to renovations, a local is going to know exactly what's going on in the moment (not only on their tour but in their city).
Even if something surprises a tour guide, for example, a coffee shop that shut down due to the owner suddenly falling ill, they'll know two other coffee shops nearby that is still en route.
Tour guides live and work in the place travelers are visiting, so they naturally have a vested interest in preserving the local culture and economy.
This might not be fully embraced by all guides (I'm working on spreading the word!), but a local guide is going to want to show you how to best enjoy their city...without totally destroying it as we've seen too often in main tourist areas.
One of the most valuable skills to a tour guide is empathy. This gives them the ability to do a lot of things that an audio tour can't such as;
*BONUS- Superior bathroom knowledge.
I've yet to meet an app that can tell me not only the nearest public restroom but also the nearest shop where, if I smile nicely and tell them it's an emergency, they will also let me use their restroom.