So you’ve been here a while and you’ve built a bank of knowledge about the Czech Republic. What’s more you consider yourself something of a people person and you know how to engage their interest. Why not consider being a tour guide.
Charles Darkin is a British born tour guide who has been in Prague since 1997, where he has been showing tourists around for much of that time. He sat down with us to answer some questions about the job.
What special skills are required to be a tour guide?
One important thing is to be able to speak various languages. That’s definitely very useful. You also need certain analytical skills because every group is different. You need to know what type of dialogue to use. Some people are more interested in the history of architecture and other people are more interested in where you can have a good time and get a cheap beer. You also need a bit of a passion for people no matter where they come from.
With regard to languages which ones are most in demand?
Obviously English is number one. Apart from that there is a Czech market so if you can speak Czech that helps. Other European languages like French and Spanish [both of which Charles is fluent in] can be heard quite often. Also oriental languages are used quite a lot.
Apart from language I assume you must have a broad knowledge of Czech history and culture. Is that right?
That’s absolutely correct. The tour guide exam asks you quite difficult questions on general Czech history as well as on the history of art and culture and also general characteristics to do with Prague, such as the population and the layout, and even things to do with Central Europe.
How do you take the exam?
There are two schools in Prague: Prague Information Service and Tyrkys and you can choose an intensive weekly course or weekend courses depending on which you apply to. Basically you study general Czech and Central European History as well as art and culture. For Prague there’s what we call building specifics, so for example for the Municipal House, for St. Vitus Cathedral or Wenceslas Square – the history of these specific places and how it relates to what the city looks like today.
Is it possible for a tour guide to specialize?
Yes, there are tour guides who specialize only in history or art and culture or the Jewish History of Prague or even the Muslim History of Prague. I’m more interested in general history.
With regards to tourists, do they tend to want more general history or specialized?
There is some demand for specialized. I would say it’s roughly 70%/30%. Seventy percent go for general and thirty percent want more specialized topics.
Once someone has passed the exam, how do they go about finding work?
There are lots of different ways. Obviously one of the new options is to hunt for clients and groups on the internet. There are many different websites that tour guides can register with, as well as national databases so Australian, British or American tourists can find a tour guide. Also Czech databases because various tour guide companies and organizations are looking for guides.
As a foreign tour guide are there more obstacles than for a Czech tour guide?
It’s swings and roundabouts. If you are a native Czech guide you have the benefit of understanding the local culture better. The other side of the coin is that a foreign tour guide who speaks a foreign language better than a Czech guide can demand a higher payment.
So how much can you earn?
That varies a lot. Some local companies pay as little as 60 to 90 CZK an hour. Equally, some foreign companies pay between 300 and 500 CZK an hour. It can take some time to find a company which pays a rate a tour guide is willing to accept.
Do you need a trade license?
Most tour guides have one but several attractions outside (or even in) Prague employ guides directly. Karlštejn Castle is one example.
Tour guide do’s and don’ts:
-Be clued up on what your group wants
-Maintain a good level of fitness
-Throw yourself into learning a foreign language
-Keep abreast of developments in the field in which you specialize
-Overload people with details
-Make your delivery too monotonous
-Ever get into a nasty mood
-Go off an tangent when explaining
-Expect a tip
A database to register with is the Czech Republic Guide Association.
Prague Inspiration s.r.o. has the site Guide-Prague.cz with a large stable of guides.
Another website is Viator which allows people to look for guide from all over the word.
Have you ever tried to make a living tour guiding? Any thoughts or advice?