FEG ExCo Deputy & FEG Trainer
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For the third year running the European Federation of Tourist Guide Associations (FEG) survey has taken the pulse of the qualified tourist guiding profession for the year 2021. The annual survey of qualified tourist guides from across Europe shows that last year there were fewer cancellations in comparison to 2020. However, the majority of guides responded that 2019 and 2020 cancellations were not carried forward to 2021 and the engagements were lost. An impressive 58% of tourist guides surveyed reported that their work had decreased by more than 75% in comparison to the pre-covid year 2019.
With responses from 27 FEG member-associations, located both in European Union states and outside, 61% of surveyed tourist guides received some financial help from their governments, other organisations such as local councils and funding bodies, or even from loans, relatives, and spouses. The level of help varied considerably from country to country. Some reported financial aid covering up to 80% of lost earnings. This is encouraging, but yet more than half of the tourist guides weren’t able to access any financial support or received less than 40% of their 2019 earnings. Only 10% reported that there will be further financial support announced for 2022.
This lack of support had a big impact as for 78% of tourist guides guiding is their main profession, with 87% of tourist guides being self-employed. Out of necessity, half the guides who completed the survey are looking into other kinds of employment and 49% of them have already been working in a different job. Even so, most remain committed to their profession, and over 80% of those who completed the questionnaire want to continue working as tourist guides. They have been using their downtime creatively to increase their knowledge and acquire new skills: learning a new language, getting a higher education qualification, producing virtual tours, investing in digital marketing for promoting their guiding services or gaining new expertise on themed guided tours in their own areas’ destinations.
In 2021 most of the work for tourist guides was with their domestic market guests. Only 28% of their jobs came from other countries. The inbound visitors by and large stayed away.
According to the World Tourism Organisation, 2020 was the worst year on record for tourism. Europe saw a 19% increase in tourism in 2021. Despite this more positive outlook, only 4% of surveyed guides expect their work to mostly recover in 2022. Approximately 75% anticipate up to half, or less than half of the engagements they had in 2019. In comparison, last year, more than 35% of respondents felt confident their guiding work would recover to at least half of the 2019 levels. This is a change in perspective and shows a downward trend in employment expectations. Two years of uncertainty, loss of income and support that largely did not cover basic living costs have taken their toll.
Many professional tourist guides are forced to rethink their future, and the tourism industry will suffer for their loss. To put this in context, the European Union tourism sector accounts for 9.5% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), and cultural tourism - where tourist guides play a central role - accounts for 40% of all European tourism.
FEG trusts that the evidence provided by this survey will encourage European, regional and national authorities to reconsider their policies in relation to tourism. As we look forward to a more positive tourism experience in 2022, a co-ordinated and holistic approach is necessary. Support of local qualified tourist guides by promoting their services, engaging with the regional and national guiding associations, and curbing of unauthorised practitioners - who are often part of the “Sharing Economy” market - will restore in tourist guides some much-needed confidence. This way, qualified tourist guides can continue to provide their expert services as the ambassadors of destinations and contribute to the rapid recovery of the vital European tourism industry.