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Contiki jobs, tour manager, how to be a tour manager
By: Staff (justin) 2013.05.09

Marie Martin has logged many thousands of miles on busses crisscrossing the U.S as a tour manager for Contiki's travel tours. She knows Graceland and Australiam Elvises about as well as anyone can. Currently in charge of bringing in new tour managers, we talked with Marie about working as a tour manager. Here are some excerpts from our interview.

SWT: You bill yourself as a tour manager. Is there any distinction betweeen the terms Guide, Leader, Field Manager?

Marie Martin: They're all different to a certain extent. If I hear "tour guide," it's someone who escorts a tour, just brings them into a place, drops them off, checks them in and out. A tour manager is someone who actually has knowledge of the cities they go to. So not only is that tour manager checking them into the hotel, making sure everything is set, but they're also giving them the state history, the city tours. Like if you go to Graceland, you give them a history of Elvis, and where to get all the best souvenirs. Tour managers are more of a total resource to people.

SWT: How long have you been involved in leading tour groups, and where did you go?

MM: Three and a half years. We [Contiki North America] only manage North America, because each international base hires it's own people, so I don't get sent internationally. But I did the northern US and the Southern US, that would be from L.A. to New York, all over the West, and I've seen Hawaii.

SWT: Do you ever get tired of visiting the same places, and if so, how do you deal with the repetition?

MM: This is a good question. I get asked this a lot by prospective tour managers. How can you see the Grand Canyon 60 times, because that's about how many times I've seen it. Or how do you go New Orleans 25 times? I think that every time you arrive at a destination you're there with a completely different group of people... a different day and time of year. And each time you go those people are going to make your experience in a place completely different. So for me, although it's the same place each time, it's not the same experience. I did the job for the experience.

SWT: What's a typical trip like?

MM: A trip can be anywhere from seven day to 23 days. As a tour manager, if you're doing your job right, people do not see the work you do. To them it seems as if you're having the time of your life, but in actuality it's a lot of work. You get up an hour earlier, running around, dealing with situations. You're on the coach, telling them what they're going to do for the day, giving histories, getting them ready for activities, whether it be horseback riding or whitewater rafting or whatever's happening. They're playing their music and you have to be diplomatic because you always have all kinds of musical taste since you have 47 or 53 people on a coach. There is always more time left over, and then you play games...trivial pursuit, scavenger hunt, coach bowling. More adult games, like Club Med but inside the bus coach. Relay races up and down the aisle, things like that, just to keep them busy. You answer a lot of city specific questions, about choices, about public transportation. You know about public transportation in every city in the U.S.

SWT: How do you get to know everything? What qualifications are necessary to be a guide ? Languages? EMT/CPR training? History degree?

MM: I actually hire the guides now. The only qualification that they absolutely need to have is personality. We like them to have a degree, but they range from math degree, finance major, archeology, gerentology, political scientist, english majors. Mostly it's not the major that matters, it's that they went to college and made it through there. What really matters is that they are about 25 years old, and they really want to do something different with their life, with the mindset that "I don't care how much money I make, I just want to go out and have a good time, and show other people my country."

SWT: If I wanted to get into this business, how should I go about it?

MM: Hiring for guiding in general, for most of the big companies, is done between the months of December and February... and you're not finally hired until the season begins in April or May.

SWT: Should applicants send resumes?

MM: What we, and most companies, like to see, is a cover letter saying why you want to be a tour manager. After the cover letter, I'll look at the resume and see if they went to college, have done a couple things where they've been responsible, dealt with people, been a supervisor, or a bartender, something where they've dealt with the public and been responsible for people. Other companies prefer that they have experience guiding, and there are schools you can go to and spend a lot of money [to learn to be a guide]. I don't know if that makes them any better or not. We train all our own people. Photos are also a good thing to include.

SWT: Why is that?

MM: You can't legally ask for that, but tour companies have ideal ways they want their tour managers to look. They like "clean cut" people, or people who look a little "older". Everyone has this image they associate with thier company. I'm frequently sent photocollages of guys with surfboards and women rock climbing, those catch your eye. They send that knowing that it fits our image and I'll take two looks instead of just one.

SWT: Do you get to travel much on your own?

MM: Yes. The contracted season is usually April-September or May-October. What happens is that there is winter work, but not as much as the summer. People will be allotted winter work based on their summer work and their seniority. The others have time off.

SWT: So you work in the field for six months, one group right after another?

MM: Pretty much. Sometimes you have a week off, four days. You always have a break between tours, minimum a day, maximum a week. While you're on the road you only pay for things that you want. Everyone takes care of you. When you come off the road and look at your bank account, and you make tips, and other incentives, it's looking pretty good. We give our tour managers huge incentives to travel. When I was on the road my first year I spent a month in the Caribbean, a month in Europe. The next year I went to New Zealand and Australia for three months. Thailand. Back to Europe. South America. And because the way the company is set up we get great reduced rates to fly. We pass those on to the tour managers, as well as discounts on tours in other places.

SWT: Have you ever had any unusual situations?

MM: Even the difficult situations never made me feel like quitting. Out on the road, no matter how bad it got, and there are some pretty funny situations, I never wanted to get out. We had an Elvis. We always have Elvises. They're kind of funny, they honestly think they're Elvis. The Elvis from my first tour called me up saying "I'm coming back to America!" and I was like, oh no. He's been back 5 or 6 times because he's had such a good time. We had an Elvis, not me personally, and every time the tour manager would talk Elvis would play the guitar. He'd smoke in the back, he was a bit of a trouble maker. No one could stand him, and they eventually wouldn't let him continue on the tour. Everyone else in the coach was happy with that. There are some funny stories on the road, and everyone has them.

SWT: What's the most rewarding aspect of being a travel guide?

MM: I think the most rewarding aspect of it is the amount of people you're going to meet, and without even trying to, you're going to affect their lives. People have come in here for jobs with this American mentality of "I went to high-school, I went to college, I got a job making 50K a year, and I have all these things that are my life." When I actually have someone across from me that I'm going to hire, I have to convey to them that they're not going to have these "things". Making money is not part of this lifestyle. This lifestyle is experiencing life: the good, the bad, the ugly, good times, crisis, natural disasters, everything that can happen. Every experience that you have makes you rich.


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