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How Do Free Walking Tours Make Money?

by Rafal Sulowski

Last week I met a free walking tour guide on the comedy event in Amsterdam. I was very surprised when he told me that he does a FREE walking tour guide job. At first, I thought that he gets paid by the company that he works for, so you can imagine how wide I opened my eyes when he said that he must pay this company for being a guide. He explained to me everything and now I’ll tell you how do free walking tours make money.

The tour provider organizing a free walking tour charge a guide by the number of people taking part in the tour. The approximate fee that guide has to pay for each tourist is 3 euro. Guide, on the other hand, gets donations at the end of the tour, of course only if he’s good.

Photo courtesy of Floris Oosterveld|| Flickr

In this article, I’ll explain to you how free walking tour model works. You’ll learn how they make money and I will also answer some frequently ask questions such as: how much to tip a free walking tour guide. Keep on reading.

What Is A Free Walking Tour?

Free Walking Tours are getting more and more popular all over the world. There are many companies organizing that kind of tours and imagine that 15 years ago no one was doing that kind of business. If you are a tourist you can basically take part in that tour without paying any fee. When you compare it to regular tours where you have to pay upfront a high fee it is just unbelievable. Of course, everyone knows that these kind of tours are donation based and if you like this experience you should donate at the end. Donation isn’t obligatory, but when you compare tipping 5 or 10 euros to paying 30 – 50 euros upfront for a tour that is boring, there is a difference, right? For me, it’s very reasonable to pay for something after I can tell if it’s good or not.

There are more and more free walking tours organized by municipalities. Most often they are in big cities, but I think that this tourism area will grow in the coming years because it’s a great way of promotion for small towns.

Free Walking Tour Business Model

What is a free talking tour business model? In short, a tour provider promotes a tour and gets clients. Tourist sign in for the free walking tour. The guide has to pay a certain amount of money for each client. As far as I know, it’s around 3 euros. At the end of the tour guide ask for donations. So basically, the tour guide has to pay for each tourist to tour provider and he gets donations at the end of the tour.

This can be tricky. You may ask: is it really profitable for the tour guide? It depends on the quality of his services. If he’s very good and tourists are happy with the time spent on a tour he gets good tips, even up to 20 euros per person. Most often it’s 10 euros per person. Imagine that 15 people pay 10 euros each (150) and a guide has to pay to the company 3 euros per person. 150 – 45 = 105. If someone can make 105 euros within 2 hours that’s not bad, right? You may want to know how the company knows how many people took a part in the tour. At the end of the tour, they always take a photo and based on this, a tour provider knows how many people were taking part in a tour.

This is a “win-win” model for everyone. It’s great for tour providers because they get more clients, for tourists because they know what they pay for, and they decide themselves if the tour was good enough and they want to donate. When it comes to guides, only the best ones can compete in this market and thanks to that, free walking tour guides are exceptionally good.

Is it Ethical?

Some people say that this is not ethical to tell people that a tour is free and then ask for donations at the end of it. In fact, this is a little pushy and can be seen as rude. Actually, at first, I interpreted it very unfair and wrong. Because for me when someone tells me something is free and then ask for a donation, this is a lie. It’s just a trick to get clients. It’s just like a guy who gives you a rose “for free” and then ask for a donation. In this case, you are under pressure and personally I perceive it very manipulative.

On the other hand, as far as I know, that they’ll ask for the donation at the very end of the tour, I’m fine with that. I can decide if I support a guide or not. Of course, if he would be boring, I don’t pay anything, but if he makes it a great time I would be willing to pay for the tour.

How Long is Free Walking Tour?

The free walking tour takes approximately 1 to 3 hours. That’s long enough to learn about a new city. During this time you’ll get to know your guide and you can decide if you donate at the end or not. Most of the times, walking tour guides are very good, because not good enough guides can’t make money and they resign. Only the best guides can compete.

How Much To Tip A Free Walking Tour Guide?

Photo courtesy of Tomasz Baranowski|| Flickr

First of all, it’s not obligatory to pay for a free walking tour. Sometimes people leave a tour even before the tour is finished, and that’s totally fine. Of course, as far as you know that a guide has to pay 3 euros per each person and you if you don’t donate, you should know that a tour guide has the right to hate you.

As far as I know, people most often donate 10 euros. If the guide is good you can donate something between 5 and 10 euros. If a guide is extraordinary people donate up to 20 euros. It’s a personal thing and there is no specific amount that you have to donate. I would say 10 euros is just fine. Either way, it’s much cheaper than a regular city tour and you know what you pay for.

Is It a Good Business Model For Tour Providers?

I think it’s the best business model at a time. There aren’t many people who want to go for a 15 euro city tour but there are thousands who want to go for a free walking tour. It’s much easier to find a client and if the client is satisfied he’ll pay at the end of the tour.

That model is also better for the quality of services. Guides have to give their best to keep the attention of the crowd until the very end of the tour. They have to be enthusiastic, energetic and entertain tourist for the whole time of the tour. When you pay a fixed salary to your guides they don’t care that much. Even if they don’t give a shit they still get paid the same amount of money. In the case of a free walking tour, they have to do their best each and every time.

In this business model, a tour guide must be a teacher, guide, comic, storyteller. It’s not the same as just telling some information about the city. This model makes tour much more engaging and interesting than regular city tours.

How To Sign For a Free Walking Tour?

You can just go to google and search for a free walking tour Amsterdam. There are lots of different free walking tour providers. That kind of a business model is getting more and more popular and thanks to the high competition most of the companies provide high-quality services. If I were you I would go for this walking tour –> Link Here

Sandemans tours are probably the most popular free walking tours. They were the first ones who came up with this idea. That’s why today they are a huge tour provider. in 2003 it was just a little startup, but thanks to free walking tours they grew into a huge business.

Wrap Up

Free Walking Tour business model is very interesting and it can be used in many other businesses as well. It may be a little bit tricky because some people don’t know that it is donation based and they can be offended. On the other hand, if someone knows how that kind of tour works, it’s a great solution. I like the idea that I know what I pay for.

For these people who want to take part in that kind of tour, I can recommend it 100%. I’ve been taking part in many free walking tours in whole of Europe and all of them were exceptionally good. On the other hand, all the paid tours I took part in were totally boring. Also, remember that a guide always has to pay a little fee for every person taking part in its tour, so donations are very appreciated.

If you want to become a free walking tour guide you must be extraordinary. Trust me. It’s not easy to talk for 3 hours straight, so if you want to make a living out of it you have to be good enough to get good tips. If you earn just a regular salary, then it’s not worth it. This job is difficult and it’s tiring. So do it well or don’t do it at all.

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