* Disclaimer 1 : I am a member of AGICA association but this article has been written by myself. It is not sponsored by the association.
Today, I would like to talk about a burning topic : the “free tours” ! And I am going to tell you why you should book a certified guide whereas to follow a “free tour” which in fact is not free and which is participating to a bad image of our guides… Because today we face more and more websites, cellphone apps or just people that are proposing “free tours”. In Bordeaux, we have some and they are easy to find on internet : I will not advertise them on my blog…
A lot of people think that they can become guide like this – click ! You know like the changing colors dress of the Sleeping beauty at the end of the cartoon. But in real life, we don’t have nice fairies around us with their magic wands. It will be so cool tho !
No, in real life people are at school and they have to choose what they would like to do in the future and they try to follow their dreams by going to college to complete a diploma and then find a job. Most of us do that : it’s the french mold. Some want to be a certified guide because they love art, architecture, history, culture, archeology, Middle Ages, castles, gardens, museums, paintings, wine, food… Most of the certified guides have a general knowledge (and they learn every day !) and some of them are even super specialized with PhD. But they all have something in common : a diploma and a national card which allow them to do visits in public monuments such as Versailles or le Louvres (for the most famous in France).
When you are searching for a visit because you are a future tourist on vacations in France, well you look on the internet. Normal. And then you can find some very attractive advertisings about a concept called “free tours”. Well, it seems to be a great idea : you will visit the city… for free ! Amazing right ?
But in fact no ! For me these “free tours” are like you were buying counterfeits…
1) It’s not certified guides. Yes, sorry, your “free guide” is not a certified guide. It’s probably a student or even a foreign student. So you can have very nice surprises about their knowledges : “What ?! I didn’t know that the Eiffel tower was built in 1655 by a american architect called Claude Eiffel Junior and it was moved several times around France before to be settled on the Champ-de-Jupiter in Paris” ! This one is a joke but when we hear some of their stories, we hope that it’s really a joke too… Don’t you want to learn the real history of France ? Don’t you want to visit public monuments ? Because, “free guides” cannot “guide” in public monuments like museums. What a pity for you… You made a journey abroad and you might learn wrong stuffs about our beautiful country.
2) It’s never free. Yes, sorry again. You might be surprised and disappointed but “free tours” are never really free. Indeed, at the end of the visit the “free guide” asks you to give a little something. Often it’s 5 euros but it can be 10 euros per person. When you check around you, you understand that you were up to 30 to 50 people to follow the tour : what a juicy business in fact ! It’s what they kindly call “tip”… Tipping is not an obligation in France but it’s welcomed especially in some fields (taxi, restaurant, hotel…) and can be around 5 to 15% of the total invoice depending on the quality of the service. The tip has also a specific regulation : it should be declare as an income and taxes have to be paid on it. But a lot of people are receiving it “under the table”. Most of the students and foreign students who are “free guides” are not aware about this regulation. Moreover the “free tours” companies are often taking a huge percentage on the tip. The “free guides” have almost nothing left.
3) By booking “free tours” you are giving credit to companies that sometimes are not even real companies and which are using “free guides” who are exploited ! What does it mean ? Well, imagine you are following a “free tour” and you have an accident. In the case of the “free tour” not being a real company, it means that they don’t have any insurance but the “free guide” is responsible of you. Welcome to a new world of problems ! Often these “companies” appear during the summer when we have a lot of tourists and disappear during winter. They look like real companies : they have a website, a really cool instagram and nice trip advisor comments ! But for some, it’s just smoke… The “free guides” are often exploited also : they will do tours every 2 hours with 30 to 50 people each time. If it’s not a company they also don’t have a real wage and they don’t contribute to their social security (retirement, sickness, unemployment)…
* Disclaimer 2 : some “free guides” are doing a great job, they are not all saying wrong informations and some are declaring their tips. Some “free tours” are real companies and have insurances. I would love them to join the certified guides family and to pass their diploma. If you like animals, you cannot declare yourself veterinarian but you can do studies to become one ! This is the main issue with these “free tours”. They are doing a competition with an existing job.
So why should you book a “free tour” when you have a lot of certified guides around ? It has no sense. It’s like counterfeit : you are going to buy something that you think less expensive but the quality is also low… Certified guide is not an easy job : we have a lot of responsibilities, we are most of the time entrepreneurs/freelancers and our work is mostly seasonal. But we love what we do and we do it well ! We are great !
1) Certified guides are not free but in Bordeaux for instance we have almost all the same price. You won’t have any bad surprise ! This price is changing because of the type of visit (winetour, walking tour, art tour, museum visit, gourmet tour…), the length (1 hour, 2 hours, 1 day or several days) and the number of people (1 to 50 people).
2) Certified guides are specialized. Yes, we have done studies and as I was telling you in the intro, some are in love with churches, some are fond of gardens ! So you will always find a certified guide for the type of visit you want.
3) Certified guides are locals. If you are from the USA, you probably know the “greeters”. Well, certified guides are also greeters. We welcome you in our cities, we know what is happening where we live. We show you around, give you advises and adresses where to eat or to taste good wine. We can also help you to book a restaurant or call the airport. More than guiding, we are providing a great service.
4) Certified guides are professionals. To welcome you, is our job. We know how to deal with last minute problems. We can adapt our programs to your wishes, to your mood, to your health issues… We are here to teach you something and it’s really important. We are tourism professionals and we know how the Tourism Offices, the museums, the monuments are working as we are dealing with them all year long. You can also find certified guides speaking your language : french, english but also spanish, russian, german, italian, chinese, japanese… It’s really cool ! Moreover, some guides are certified driver (in France, we cannot drive you around like this : we need to pass a diploma ! Be careful of that and check your driver next time) : they can drive and guide you around in the same time.
If you want to find a certified guide in France, check this website : guides-officiels-de-france.com. If you want to learn more about certified guides in Bordeaux, you should check the website of AGICA (the association of certified guides in the south west of France) : www.agica.info
You will find more than 120 guides in total located in Bordeaux, in Biarritz, in Périgueux, in La Rochelle… AGICA created this logo (just below) : “Bordeaux Mon Guide” which is now used as “Mon Guide” by all the certified guides in France !
I hope you will follow your heart and adopt a certified guide ! Forget the umbrella (symbol of the “free tour”) and embrace the sunny rainbow !