Pandemic COVID-19 and next steps in tourism – perspective of tourist guides

By May 12, 2020 Recent, Tourism

The tourism sector shut down is in the third month. Entire country lock-outs, border closures, travel bans, suspension of almost all passenger flights, closed hotels and restaurants contributed to an unparalleled business crisis. One of the most affected tourism occupations is travel guides.

The European Federation of Tourist Guides Associations (FEG) quickly reacted to collect information on the impact of the suspension of tourism activity on the tourist guide profession. FEG is an umbrella body representing 27 organizations of countries in the wider geographical region of Europe1.

FEG has investigated the impacts of the last three months on wages, missed working hours, compensation earned by membership associations. Tourist guides are professionals working in tourism for several years, 23.67 percent of respondents report being employed for a minimum of 10 years.

This points to a stable, highly skilled workforce with low labor turnover, a condition in the tourism industry that is almost unprecedented. The vast majority of guides rely on income guidance and 83,58% of participants in surveys have no other financial sources.

Tourist guides are primarily single business practitioners as a profession. 87,80 percent of tourist guides operate for themselves and are paid accordingly, as per the FEG report. The consequence of these flexible working conditions is that they are particularly insecure as a career. Tourist guides find it much harder to obtain government funding and support.

The guides surveyed2 reported around 53,000 missed working hours due to cancellations for February2020. The average profit loss per guide is estimated at EUR 523. February is, however, one of the least active tourism months of the year.

  • About 15 per cent of all guides interviewees indicated that they were not involved in February, as the tourist season in their countries only began later in the year. This is due to differences in the propagation of viruses and global lock-down decisions.
  • For some February, fewer than 1% of guides registered reservations cancelled later in the year for some tours. In March, the traditional beginning of tourism for many European countries, the situation deteriorated, with all booked tours reportedly canceled.

An annual loss of 115,000 working hours is caused by cancelations. The loss of revenue is estimated at EUR 1,835 per guide.

  • Less than 1 per cent of the guides reported reservations for some of the March tour events canceled in the later part of the year.
  • There is no accurate way to quantify the possible last minute and individual reservations.

For April 2020, estimates have risen to 139,000 working hours and missed sales to about EUR 2.360 per guide. The increase in missed hours of work and sales is attributed to the start of Easter holidays in April 2020, an significant time to help guides after winter idleness.

  • The amount of rebookings for canceled April tours for the latter part of the year has not changed significantly.

At the time of the survey (the survey was conducted in April 2020) several governments announced financial support initiatives, but no fee was paid to the surveyed guides. Once the survey was finished, several national governments started to offer incentives. Nonetheless, the normal sum of EUR 800 is not below the predicted average level of earnings for guides. Furthermore, this financial assistance is limited in time and does not cover income losses in the coming months.

These statistics show a rather somber picture of the effect of the COVID-19 outbreak on the financial survival of tourist guides. The lack of a sufficient number of rebookings for cancelations, loss of revenue at the beginning of the tourist season, ongoing confusion about workable travel guidelines are important factors, as their effect will continue in the coming months.

The FEG has many recommendations for the profession’s survival including the continuation of financial support for tour guides even though the travel restrictions have been lifted; EU funding for low-interest micro-loans to improve the preparation of tourist guides; implementation of tourism guidelines as a model for sustainable services. FEG will continue to interview its members in order to gain up-to-date information and use it to draw attention to the market.

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