Q – We are trying to decide which tour company we should go with next summer for approximately two weeks in Spain and Portugal. Having a hard time choosing which tour operator to use based on our strong desire to have the best possible guide. Do we look for a “Certified Guide” as you have mentioned, or do we consider what the online reviews might say about a particular guide? Do we try to do this independently to hand-select the best guides? Will tour companies tell us in advance who the guide will be before booking so we can check references? We don’t want to come across as “escort fanatics” but we really believe that, given our limited overseas travel experience, the guide is 90% of the trip outcome. Really appreciate your time and this incredible site. 

A – There is a lot in your question. Let us try to address each portion  with some bullet point responses:

  • You should assume that all full-time guides for the major tour firms are certified by local tourism authorities.
  • Note that approximately 40% of the experienced tour guides in Europe had no work during Covid and sought employment in other professions. There is, currently, a serious tour guide shortage.
  • Tour guides who work independently, out of their homes, rely on online reviews to attract new clients. These positive reviews can easily be purchased or even composed using an AI Chatbot by someone with computer skills. 
  • The upscale major tour operators tend to attract the best guides because they appeal to an affluent rather than a mass-market clientele. This means, on average, that the guide for a company in the upper price range will likely secure higher average tips from the tour group. 
  • A company like Tauck attracts many of the very best guides because Tauck has one of the lowest percentages of cancelled tours due to lack of participation. For many of the mass market firms this is an ongoing problem. Guides don’t know which tours will actually operate among the hundreds of departure dates listed. A Tauck or Abercrombie & Kent guide can pretty much plan their summer schedule far in advance. 
  • Given the fact that there can always be heath issues or scheduling conflicts, the majority of tour departures do not list the name of the assigned guide. 
  • Often, the absolute best guides are affiliated with the best of the on-site in-country offices that work with the large luxury consortiums and their agents. They know the guides personally and use them for VIP Guests. Many of the better guides will not do bus tours. They prefer to work with sophisticated travelers who will generally show their appreciation for good service. You would, for example, find excellent guides affiliated with a company called “Made for Spain & Portugal”. They are based in Madrid and have won numerous industry awards. Your travel advisor can set up touring with them directly and specify your interests and the type of guide you are seeking. But, of course, private touring is far more expensive than touring incorporated as part of a group tour.