Travel industry opportunities for seniors

By Randy Keck
This item appears on page 47 of the November 2019 issue.
Within Frogner Park in Oslo, Norway, tour groups are among the many visitors to the sculpture park featuring works by Gustav Vigeland. Photo by Randy Keck

Over the years, I have periodically written about employment and volunteer opportunities in the travel industry. This month, I am focusing on such opportunities for those of retirement age, since the majority of ITN readers fit into that demographic.

For those of us who are addicted to travel, particularly international travel, a major part of the appeal is the chance for continued learning, which is synonymous with continuing personal growth. When we travel, we are primarily in student mode, learning mode.

Within the travel industry, however, there are opportunities on the flip side of the coin, such as teaching, volunteer work (for example, working at the front desk of a town’s or region’s visitors’ center) and paid guiding and tour-directing options. In those capacities, you are contributing to the travel and learning experiences of others, which can be equally or even more rewarding than your own personal travel because, in sharing and giving, you are enhancing other people’s lives.

In my case, when I go on independent trips or press trips, I am primarily in learning mode. When I work as a Tour Director or Tour Leader, I am mostly in teaching and sharing mode. When my wife, Gail, and I, as volunteers/sponsors for the US Naval War College, interact with foreign military officers and their families who are attending one-year courses at that facility, we tend to be simultaneously in teaching and learning modes.

A senior, age-70-plus neighbor of mine who is an ITN reader and world traveler essentially trained himself to be a local history expert, and he now works as a step-on guide and walking-tour guide for ship passengers during the 2-month period that cruise ships visit Newport, Rhode Island, each fall.

Domestic tour operators often have a need for paid airport meet-and-greet personnel. In that role, typically, you meet the client when she or he arrives on their flight and coordinate transportation to their accommodation. As their first point of contact, you can often provide valuable information that makes a positive contribution to the visitor’s local experience.

Goals and training

One thing is definite. Travel industry training and certification greatly expand the employment options for seniors. Those interested in investigating formal training and both full-time and, particularly, part-time work as a Tour Director/Manager, Tour Guide or both should note the following.

Recently, I was interviewing Daniel Slater, president of the International Guide Academy (IGA), the highly regarded and longest-operating school (1973 to present) in the US for the training and certification of both Tour Directors and Tour Guides. We were discussing opportunities for seniors in the travel industry and he made the following statement: “IGA has graduates in their 80s still leading tours. It provides great opportunities for seniors to travel and earn income.”

That pretty much says it all.

It is important to note that, based on industry standards, the positions of Tour Director and Tour Guide require different training, knowledge and certification.

The IGA Tour Director course is intended for those who are seeking certification as a Tour Director or Tour Manager. People working as Tour Directors (and it can be within or outside of the US) travel from city to city, state to state or country to country and are responsible for the operation of and smooth flow of a multiday tour. Assignments can include van and motorcoach travel, rail travel and travel by cruise ship.

The IGA Tour Guide course is intended for those wishing to work mostly as local guides, mainly in the US. Tour Guides are knowledgeable within a specific locality, such as a city, a state or a particular geographic area. They provide meet-and-greet services or walking tours, work as step-on guides or driver/guides, work special events, etc. They are rarely away from home overnight. Some of these options can be particularly appealing for many seniors.

The current cost of the IGA Tour Director course is $1,795; most classes are nine days, but some are longer, depending on the destination where the class is being held. The IGA Tour Guide course costs $795 and is five days in length.

Some students choose to take both courses when they are offered in sequence once each year. The discounted rate for both is $2,490.

Employment opportunities

IGA has a program of lifetime job-placement assistance for graduates. In addition, there is an annual industry symposium and marketplace/job fair for Tour Directors and Tour Guides that IGA graduates can attend. It currently takes place each November, held in rotating locations.

A plethora of major tour operators attend this event for the purpose of filling their Tour Director needs for the coming season and beyond. Most are looking for personable, young-at-heart talent to lead their groups, with a focus on people skills as opposed to chronological age. IGA senior staff typically are speakers at this event.

It is a requirement that all IGA course instructors be actively leading tours, themselves. This keeps all course training and instruction current with what is happening on the road in the industry.

IGA class sizes average 15-20 for the Tour Director course and 8-10 for the Tour Guide course.

Daniel indicated that, currently, about one-third of the students in their Tour Director course are over the age of 65, compared with around 50% in the Tour Guide course.

He estimated that 15%-25% of their Tour Director graduates receive international assignments, with the balance of work in North America. Travel experience and foreign language skills can definitely assist in obtaining international assignments.

For information regarding training and certification programs and travel industry opportunities, contact IGA (Denver, CO; phone 303/780-0131, email or visit

You may reach Randy at 80 America Way, Jamestown, RI 02835; 401/560-0350,