Forty people hang on your every word as the private launch pulls away from the dock in Venice, Italy. Some of the most famous buildings of the Italian Renaissance line the serpentine Grand Canal, but since the light from all that marble can be very bright, you take a moment to put on your dark glasses before returning to the microphone. Wait! Is that your cell phone? It is. The two-star restaurant wants to tell you that the gourmet menu for the group’s lunch will be ready when you arrive.
“I do sometimes take wicked pleasure in the fact that I get paid to do this,” says Maria, a tour manager for a large travel company. “It’s not just that, though. You can really make a difference to somebody, whether it’s by doing a great historical explanation or by arranging some terrific out-of-the-way experience.”
Maria holds an undergraduate degree in a relevant subject: classical archeology. Her first job out of school was as a trapeze artist (“I am really short, so it was easy”). She soon realized she was a good entertainer, and started looking for a way to put that ability together with her studies and a gift for languages.
To find her job, Maria applied to several agencies she’d heard about from friends. Most tour managers find situations by word-of-mouth because agencies don’t want to work with first-timers unless somebody is willing to vouch for them. Soon Maria was leading two-week tours – and studying at night in her hotel room in order to master historical and cultural information.
Over the last 14 years, Maria has found that her season lasts about 10 months a year, and she is home perhaps one week out of every month. Otherwise it’s 24/7, and the glamour can wear thin. The toughest part of the job? “I get fed up with answering the same questions over and over, and repetition of destinations can get really tedious.” So can relentless packing when a tour moves every three nights, and work hours that stretch from 7:30 a.m. to midnight as she confirms every detail of the group’s schedule.
But when life is good, it’s very, very good. Maria spends her days in some of the most beautiful and important destinations in Europe, eats in fine restaurants, and stays in top-quality hotels. Her biggest problem last tour was deciding what to wear to have afternoon tea in one of Italy’s best-known hotels.
“I won’t get rich, though,” she says. She gets paid a base fee plus an additional amount per passenger per day and her expenses. Tips can be lavish, but she has to watch carefully to be sure she puts aside enough of her earnings for taxes. Last year, she took home $30,000. Benefits are nonexistent, and having to save receipts – many of which are the size of a cash register slip – drives her crazy. Still, she wouldn’t have it any other way.
If you’re tired of the office and want to put that liberal arts degree to use, consider being a tour manager. You may never have to carry your own suitcase again. So brush up on your Italian...and dream on!