Best Cities for Tour Guides

Whether you are taking a tour of a lush rainforest or a bustling metropolis, the experience will be colored by how specific it is to you. “My client likes plants? I take them to a rooftop garden in a neighborhood they've never been too,” said Abigail Ekue, the founding tour guide of Native Creative Concierge in New York City. “Photography client? Arrange a stop at a famed-photographer's gallery for a meet and greet. Client interested in Mediterranean cuisine? End the tour with a stop at an upscale restaurant and receive personal attention from the head chef.”

OK, so but what makes the city for the guide? To answer this question at ValuePenguin, we considered three data points – median salary, cost of living and location quotient – as well as the perspectives of some tour guides to determine what U.S. cities are the best places for these public-speaking professionals to call home. More on our methodology below.

Best Five Cities for Tour Guides

Of the 114 cities reporting data, these five earned our best score, comprising the factors of median salary, cost of living and location quotient. Speaking of salary, the 35,100 tour guides employed in the U.S. in 2014 earned $26,120 on average, or an hourly wage of $12.56, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

1. Flagstaff, Ariz.

The northern Arizona city took the top spot in our rankings in large part because of its location quotient, a metric we associate with the amount of demand for tour guides; its “LC” is 948 percent higher than the average city in our study. Why the great disparity? Flagstaff comprises 14 miles of historic U.S. Route 66; has an old west history and Native American culture; and is within 80 miles of the Grand Canyon. Fertile ground for educational exploring to say the least.

2. Napa, Calif.

Known to many simply as “wine country,” Napa combines a high location quotient with a popular destination for tourists. And it is often the grapes that entice travelers to make the 50-mile drive north of the next city on our list. At last count, there were 391 wineries within the city. So it’s no surprise that many guides here lead tasting tours.

3. San Francisco, Calif.

With 820 tour guide positions, San Francisco has the most among our top five and the third-most in the study. Landmarks like the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz Island undoubtedly bring tourists from all over the field. Its guides carry the burden of teaching these guests about a city they’ve probably already heard so much about. “Even with all of the wonderful history and culture, San Francisco still has many stereotypes in the minds of visitors,” said Ted Bravos, the CEO and founder of International Tour Management on Market Street. “The job of the tour guide is to help visitors overcome their preconceived ideas while having a fun and fascinating experience.”

4. San Luis Obispo, Calif.

It’s not the Cable Car, but the next city on our list is known, in part, for its Old SLO Trolley. Located 230 miles down the coast from San Francisco, San Luis Obispo is the most affordable place to live among our top five. It makes up for its small industry (just 90 jobs) with the third-best annual average salary in the country ($35,910). Many walking tours here stop along Bubblegum Alley near the city center.

5. Anchorage, Ala.

Alaska’s most populous city has the second-highest annual average salary in the nation for tour guides; its $36,230 is 44 percent higher than average. Home to its fair share of state and national parks, forests and reserves, Anchorage is an outdoorsy tour guide’s oasis. Be wary of signing up for the “Tour of Anchorage,” however – it’s something else entirely.

Top 30 Cities for Tour Guides

RankCityAverage SalaryJobsLocation QuotientCost of LivingScore

1

Flagstaff, AZ$29,57028018.4516122

2

Napa, CA$30,6101206.8914026

3

San Francisco, CA$31,0108202.9114026

4

San Luis Obispo, CA$35,910903.3311427

5

Anchorage, AK$36,2301403.0713527

6

St. George, UT$30,950704.879729

7

Casper, WY$42,300403.169833

8

Prescott, AZ$28,4901107.2813533

9

Nashville, TN$29,7203801.8010548

10

Miami, FL$28,3505401.9811251

11

New Orleans, LA$26,2704303.079358

12

Santa Fe, NM$27,580503.2111858

13

Boston, MA$28,0007801.689258

14

Madison, WI$28,6201601.7911259

15

Honolulu, HI$24,5508807.5718870

16

Bowling Green, KY$25,3801006.239170

17

Washington, DC$30,0106701.0912371

18

Asheville, NC$25,1802004.4110571

19

Santa Rosa, CA$34,460601.188772

20

San Diego, CA$28,8204101.2011573

21

New York, NY$33,9701,3100.9315774

22

Savannah, GA$24,5902907.179174

23

Virginia Beach, VA$25,4004602.409077

24

Providence, RI$25,5703402.3511877

25

Las Vegas, NV$28,4302601.149481

26

Peabody, MA$26,060602.4414082

27

Redding, CA$26,010402.4611185

28

Seattle, WA$30,6803200.838985

29

Naples, FL$27,830401.2716593

30

St. Louis, MO$25,8904501.3411693

On Topic: How did you become a tour guide?

Susan Ryan | Fab 4 NYC Tours | New York City, N.Y.

“I am a graduate of Queens College, CUNY, with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication Arts and Sciences. I have worked in various industries over the years, including publishing and the record industry. At one time, I worked as a volunteer docent at Philipsburg Manor in Sleepy Hollow, New York, where I gave tours of a historic working 17th Century farm, house and grist mill… I have always had a passion for history and love learning more about my city. My tour is very specific – geared for Beatles fans who are visiting New York City. Originally, I was the backup tour guide for the woman who developed the tour, but when she moved to Los Angeles, I took it over as my own.”

Abigail Ekue | Native Creative Concierge | New York City, N.Y.

“I started Native Creative Concierge by way of necessity and desire. It was during the recession and while interviewing for jobs there was also the desire to work for myself doing something I'd enjoy and had the knowledge to do. I found there was a need in the travel industry for travelers to experience more of New York City outside of the usual tourist attractions. As a native New Yorker, I am able to provide that. Soon after I became a NYC travel specialist which is, recognized by NYC & Company.

Anthony W. Robins | Discover New York’s Landmarks | New York City, N.Y.

“I did my master’s degree in art history, but decided the academic world was not for me. One day, I saw an ad for a tour of ‘pre-Civil War cast-iron architecture’ organized by ‘The Friends of Cast-Iron Architecture.’ What could pre-Civil War cast-iron be? And who were its ‘Friends’? So I took the tour and got hooked. Within a year, I was a tour guide, and before long co-chair of walking tours for the Friends. That was strictly as a volunteer, but before long paid tours started coming my way. I’ve had a long career with many sidelines – staff at the New York City Landmarks Commission in the 1980s and 90s; adjunct professor at NYU and Columbia; author of books on New York City. But I have always kept up as a tour guide. All these paths reinforce one another.”

Ted Bravos | International Tour Management Institute | San Francisco, Calif.

“After taking a yearlong bicycle trip through Europe, I was hopelessly bitten by the travel bug. When I returned to the United States, I was trying to determine what I could do so that I could continue to travel. I was at the right place, at the right time. I happened to walk into the offices of Continental Trailways Bus Company, when a nice lady told me that they needed a tour guide immediately and offered me the job. No formal training existed and I was a survivor of the ‘sink or swim’ method of tour guiding.”

Methodology

These were the three key questions we asked in coming up with the list.

1. What can tour guides earn in the city?

We ranked the best cities for tour guides based on the median annual pay. Income is likely the most important factor people consider when starting their career or relocating elsewhere. A high salary in an expensive city, however, may be less attractive than a lower salary in an affordable town. Our next metric takes affordability into consideration.

2. How affordable is it to live in this city?

Now that we have the median salary, we’ll look next at the cost of living. The cost of living is a measure of how far earnings can be stretched. Cities with lower cost of living index numbers ranked higher in our study. For example, the average city is benchmarked at 100. A city with a cost of living index of 140, such as Peabody, Mass., would mean that generally speaking, living expenses are 40 percent more expensive compared to the average city.

3. What is the location quotient for tour guides in the city?

A place with a high median salary and low cost of living may seem perfect, but job opportunities may be limited. Our third factor accounts for this by favoring cities with high location quotients. Location quotient measures the concentration of firefighters in an area as a percentage of all occupations, and then compares that to the national average. We interpret a higher location quotient to mean a relatively higher demand for a tour guide’s services.

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