How Much Tour Directors Earn
Tour directors derive income from a variety of sources. If you total the different sources of income, then on a daily basis, a TD can typically earn $150 - $250 per tour day. Like many jobs, what you do to prepare for the job, and the paperwork involved before and after, are not paid.
Tax issues. There is much debate in the industry, and a number of lawsuits, as well, as to whether TDs are employees or independent contractors. Tour operators will provide W2s and 1099s during tax time for TDs to use in filing their taxes. Some Tour operators presume an amount of tips per tour and withhold taxes for the presumed amount, others leave it entirely up to the TD to declare tips. The TD needs to be clear on which approach is taken with each employer.
These are the Sources of Income for a Tour Director:
Wages or salary. It is common in the field for tour operators (TOs) to provide a daily wage, from $75 - $150 typically. The assumption here is the same as it is in the restaurant industry: employers pay low but actual wages, and presume that the employee will make up the balance in tips. Some TOs offer more, perhaps $300 per day, and generally do not allow TDs to accept tips.
Per diem. Tour operators pay TD expenses such as hotel, meals (either included in the tour or on-your-own), transit and transfers to gateway city. Often this is paid as a per diem amount of up to $35 typically, for which the TD does not have to provide a receipt in the post-tour paperwork.
Gratuities. TDs may NEVER request tips from guests; that's a pretty well-beaten path to being fired. Usually, their tour operator suggests that for them. TOs will provide written materials to guests, including tipping guidelines for the TD, the bus driver, and other service providers. Typically, TOs suggest somewhere in the range of $2 - $8 per guest (not per couple, though some guests interpret it that way), per tour day. TDs who direct tours for international guests will quickly realize that tipping, so much a part of American culture, is not part of other cultures, and leading such tours oftentimes results in lower tips.
Commissions. Some TOs do not allow their TDs to accept sales commissions, thinking that that promotes the TD making decisions of where to stop, based on their own financial benefit. Other TOs make arrangements with shops in advance of the trip, and the TD can only take people to that location. Still other TOs expect the TD to share the commission with the TO. And some have no stated preference. It is imperative that the TD be clear on what the employer's preference is, as making the wrong choice can cost a TD their job. Commissions can be a lucrative source of funds, yet it is a touchy subject in the industry. Another source of commissions with some TOs is optionals, the added activities TOs offer at additional cost to guests, and which are sold by the TDs on tour. Some TOs pay commission, some do not.
Positioning expenses. TDs come from all over the country, and it is common for a TO to hire a TD from the other side of the country, recognizing the value that that particular TD adds to the tour. Expenses involved in positioning the TD are borne by the TO: airline, hotel, meals, transportation.
To get started on your tour guide, land tour or adventure travel job search, become a Member today!