10 reasons why not to do a free tour
We all know them by now: each major tourist city has ‘free’ tours. The have become very popular the last few years. When you check the Internet about them, you will only find blogs why you should ABSOLUTELY do a free tour. As I guide myself I would like to discuss the opposite in this blog, because it is not that perfect as it seems to be!
1. Are these tours really free?
You might think that you are doing a free tour, but that’s actually an illusion. The guide will make it more than clear during the tour that they do expect you to tip well. Of course, how often this could be repeated differs per guide. Sometimes they will even tell you the amount they think is suitable for you to tip. Doesn’t really sound like a free tour, does it?
2. Biased information
You’re not sure to pay the guide, but it is sure he/she needs to earn money. This means actually most guides who do free tours have deals and arrangements with restaurants and other tour companies. Can you blame them? Of course not. Everyone needs to earn a living and if you’re not paying for his services, someone else has to. So probably the guides are more likely to have deals with the companies that pay the most, than with companies they like the most.
3. Large groups
Most guides often tend to have a maximum of 20 people in a group. In Amsterdam there sometimes is no maximum at all. Some of those tours will have over 50 people in a group. Why is this? Since you don’t have to sign up for the tour, the guide doesn’t know how many people will show up and eventually join the tour. In a paid tour, on the other hand, the guide knows beforehand how many people will join the tour and therefore groups are not overcrowed. These large groups will cause some other disadvantages as well:
4. I can’t hear you???
As a guide you are trained to have a strong voice, that will reach the whole group. With such large groups, in combination with noisy and busy capital cities, even the strongest voices grow silent. Unfortunately, it will motivate some people to try and walk as close to the guide as possible or others will lose their interest completely. Not really the best way to enjoy your tour.
5. Packed like sardines
Most tours are held in old city centres build in the Middle Ages or Renaissance, which means the streets are often very narrow and definitely not suited for such big groups. What follows is that the guide will either choose to take the group through small, hidden streets, making the group move very slowly. In fact, they will be packed like sardines. On the other, the guide could also choose to only take the main roads. Although you will move a lot quicker, you won’t see the hidden streets. I myself, as a guide, prefer the hidden places in the city: smaller back streets, hidden gems and courtyards. But, I will never take 50 people at a time there.
6. It’s hard to ask questions
During my work I often notice that people will ask much more questions when they are in a smaller groups, because they feel more comfortable. As soon as the group gets bigger it becomes a one-way road: the guide talks and the group listens. People often then feel embarrassed to ask a question or they don’t want to keep the group waiting. Aside from that, a guide can’t be as interactive with a large group as he/she could be with a small group. That’s absolutely a shame, because it makes a tour much more entertaining, lively and spontaneous. Above all, it will make you memorize your vacation experience much better!
7. It’s all about the money
In Amsterdam most guides who give free tours say that you’ll have to tip them between 10 and 15 euros. Can you imagine how much money they make with a group of 50 people? Averagely €500 for a 2 hour tour, commission not included. Those amounts are needed for the guide, because at the beginning of each tour, participants are counted by the company. At the end the guide has to give a percentage of their earnings to the company. However, if it’s less than counted at the beginning of the tour, the guide is in trouble. The company will think that the guide either didn’t do a good job and people left the tour, or he lies about how much he earned. It’s all about the money.
8. “Free” for the hard work?
Do you think a guide just happens to know all those great stories he/she tells you? First, a guide needs to know much more than he/she tells in case anyone has any questions. Nothing is more embarrassing for a guide than having to say: “I don’t know”. So he/she will spend hours learning as much as possible. And don’t think those stories are found only Wikipedia. Second, writing a new tour means going through big boring history books and archives for hours and hours, just to find that interesting stories. From that perspective, next time you say “wow.. that’s a lot of money for a 2 hour tour”, think about all the hard work that was done before the tour was ready to go. In that way I absolutely don’t understand why some tours are for “free”.
9. Information you often get is wrong
Free tours get more popular every day and means more guides are needed all the time. It also results in a decline of quality. The guides need to be trained fast, so they get to walk along with another guide for 1 or 2 times and then the guide needs to do it alone. Therefore the information is not checked properly in the books and they mostly learn their stories from other guides. Stories often change a lot, when told from person to person. Aside from that the guide gets paid according to how much the people like his tour. He or she will tell you the stories that are most popular, whether they are true or not.
10. TripAdvisor destroys small companies
Aside from forcing you to tip, the guides also push you to write reviews on TripAdvisor. Having 50 people in a tour, creates a lot of new reviews. Smaller companies with smaller groups, won’t get as many reviews. Therefore they will be very low ranked on a review site and harder to find. Even if they offer better quality.