Tour guiding is more than a profession; it is also a passion. It’s the passion to teach, to entertain and to inspire. More than 7,000 tour guides in Iran pursue this passion to unravel the mysteries of their country and culture for domestic and foreign travelers.
What follows is an overview of tour guiding in Iran, including how to become a tour guide. Continue reading if you plan on visiting Iran or want to know more about guiding in Iran.
How to become a tour guide in Iran?
All Iranian tour guides need to be certified by Iran’s Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts and Tourism Organization. To become a certified tour guide, applicants have to hold at least a bachelor’s degree from an accredited university and pass about 500 hours of theoretical and practical courses at a certificated tourism educational center. They can choose to become either a cultural tour guide or a nature tour guide.
Though they have some courses in common, cultural and nature guiding courses are fundamentally different.
Cultural courses focus on history, architecture, heritage, museums, ethnic groups and cross-cultural behavior, whereas courses on guiding nature tours are more about Iran’s flora and fauna, eco-tourism, and geography. Courses such as map reading, English language, tour guiding skills and techniques, first aid, ethics, tourism regulations, and principles of interpretation, among others, are common in both.
After graduating from a tourism educational center, candidates participate in a nationwide exam held twice a year. Those who pass the exam will be invited for a series of foreign language proficiency tests (written and oral skills). Then, successful applicants receive a certificate of course completion. The final step is passing a drug and background check before becoming a certified tour guide.
Yes; becoming a tour guide is quite a journey and it can take up to a year!
What Comes Next?
Once certified, tour guides have a number of employment options: They can work full-time as tour guides or part-time (e.g. on the weekends) and may guide groups comprising domestic tourists or foreign travelers.
Being able to speak at least one foreign language fluently combined with in-depth knowledge of the sector are key to becoming full-time guides.
Some end up working as local tour guides in popular destinations, such as Isfahan, Shiraz, Yazd, Kashan, and Tehran. They guide daily tours for both individuals and groups, and can be contacted online, through travel agencies, or even at sites of attraction.
Fees range from €50 to €100 per day, mostly depending on the experience of the tour guide and the foreign language they speak (for example, Chinese-speaking tour guides are more expensive).
Some may find work as so-called driver guides: a certified tour guide with a private vehicle that they use to take their clients (tourists) around. They can be hired for a day or two, or for your entire trip. Naturally, they command higher fees which vary based on the make and model of the car.
Although some Iranian tour guides are employed only by travel agencies, most work as freelancers and are hired by agencies when there is a need for their skills. These hired tour guides adopt the role of tour leader too, and accompany the group from the very beginning to the end of the trip.
What’s the Difference Between a Guide and a Leader?
The terms “tour guide” and “tour leader” are commonly used interchangeably by both laymen and tourism professionals—but should they?
A tour guide, or tourist guide according to the World Federation of Tourist Guide Associations, is:
“A person who guides visitors in the language of their choice and interprets the cultural and natural heritage of an area, which person normally possesses an area-specific qualification usually issued and/or recognized by the appropriate authority.”
The definition includes three distinct qualities: visitor orientation, heritage interpretation, and official recognition. A tour guide is a certified pathfinder, a fountain of information and stories, a person who has the ability to dissect and present the history of a building, a site, or an area to visitors.
Since tour guides often work in specific locations over a long period of time, they are regarded as experts in their field.
A tour leader, or a tour manager, is an expert who works with a travel agency, escorts groups and manages all tasks related to the operations of a tour, including checking the accommodation and transportation, cooperating with tour guides (local and on-site), and handling any issues that might come up all the way to the end of the trip.
In Iran, unlike most other countries, a tour guide and a tour leader are basically the same person. When hiring a tour guide, you are hiring one person to carry the tasks associated with two fundamentally different jobs.
Whereas the norm around the world is for tour guides to be stationed on-site or work as local guides, in Iran a tour guide usually has to accompany a group across the country. This makes their job more difficult since they need to have in-depth knowledge of the history, culture, politics and geography of various regions. And when you realize Iran is the world’s 17th largest country with a history spanning thousands of years and home to over a dozen ethnic groups, you understand the difficulty tour guides face.
This problem stems from the fact that tourism is a nascent industry in Iran and needs some time to grow and develop, in addition to a shortage of tour guide.
Below you will find a brief FAQ about hiring a tour guide.
How to Hire a private Tour Guide in Iran?
There is a decent number of freelance tour guides in Iran, many of whom have a pretty strong online presence and can be reached via social media pages or personal blog and websites.
Besides, there are also third-party websites, such as ours, that maintain an expanding database of local tour guides in Iran. The search function allows you to look for tour guides that meet certain criteria, such as location and language skills. You can also compare tour guides before choosing the right person for your needs and making a payment online.
There are a number of uncertified private tour guides out there who may speak your language but do not possess the skills to provide an acceptable service. Use trusted websites to ensure quality services.
What languages do they speak?
Most tour guides in Iran speak English, albeit at different levels of proficiency. Tour guides fluent in other languages, including German, French, Spanish, Arabic, Japanese, Chinese, Russian, and Turkish are also available. However, during the high travel season, finding guides who speak Chinese, German, Italian, Russian, and Spanish may be difficult.
Should I Tip A Guide in Iran?
While the fee of a tour guide is included in the price of a tour, it is a well-established tradition to tip tour guide (and the driver if applicable) to show satisfaction with their work.
Tipping a tour guide in Iran is not mandatory but it has become a major source of income for them and it encourages tour guides to provide quality services. It is completely up to you how much you want to tip; that is, if you even want to!
Tip at the end of the trip in dollars or euro. For a big group (20+ people), €5 per person per day is normal but it is not set in stone.
Please comment and share your insights with us.
P.S. If you are an Iranian tour guide and you want to get listed on PersiaPort, first sign up and then fill out the registration form. If your credentials are approved, your profile will be activated.