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The Institute of Tourist Guiding was set up in 2002 and has since been instrumental in raising the profile and status of tourist guiding in the industry nationwide.


The Institute was founded in March 2002, after a long, four-year struggle to achieve recognition, and six years after the first signs that our tourist guiding qualification was under threat. Thanks to the efforts of a relatively small number of committed Blue Badge guides, who throughout this period, and in spite of strong opposition from the English Tourist Board, at times DCMS1 certain tour companies with vested interest, and amazingly some individual guides, the high standards of tourist guiding, which underpin our qualifications and our reputation, have been protected. This is an abridged version, dated February 2015, of the original article, which can be found here.


The threats to tourist guiding

Throughout the 1990s Blue Badge guides were concerned about the variation in standards across the country and about the possible introduction of NVQ qualifications in our sector. In early 1998 two events forced us to take action to take control of our profession. At that time, the Blue Badge and Green Badge were owned by the respective Regional Tourist Boards (RTBs) who effectively set the standards for their region. The London Tourist Board (LTB) had just announced it would close its guiding department and sell the London BB qualification to the highest bidder (with, possibly, very different ideas about standards and the nature of tourist guiding). At the same time, the English Tourist Board (ETB) urged RTBs to adopt NVQs2 for tourist guide training. Furthermore, ETB maintained that the current Blue Badge qualification was only equivalent to the NVQ Level 3. The Blue Badge qualification was to be removed from all but 100 ‘super guides’ who would be required to undertake the NVQ Level 4.


Control of our profession: support from LTB, opposition from ETB

Katrine Prince (long standing Course Director of the London Blue Badge course) instigated a meeting with Tom Hooper (Chairman of the Guild of Registered Tourist Guides) and Fiona Grant (Chairman of the Association of Professional Tourist Guides) and, within a month, they held a number of crucial meetings, firstly with the Director of LTB, who supported the idea of BBGs taking control of their profession and was happy to transfer ownership of the London BB to an Institute. Secondly, and less positively, with the Training Director of ETB (author of the pro-NVQ policy) and the Director of TTENTO (the national training organisation for tourism, travel and events).  The level of ignorance was starkly evident, with no appreciation either of the depth and breadth of knowledge required or of the essential marriage of knowledge and guiding skills.  Both argued that the Blue Badge was only a level 3 qualification. To our concern that the NVQ would not test knowledge since it was purely workplace assessed, the ETB Director replied that guides did not need to be tested on knowledge ‘since they always work from prompt cards’.  


Katrine PrinceKatrine Prince


Time to develop our own proposals

On 9 March 1998, the ‘Millennium Group’ was established (optimistically thinking the Institute would be up and running by 2000…), including Blue Badge guides from across the country with guide training, business and legal expertise.  This group was to meet every month until the first Institute AGM in November 2002 (later as the Institute Steering Group, then the Council of the Tourist Guiding Foundation and finally as the Board of Trustees). 

We believed an Institute would be the most appropriate vehicle for what we sought to achieve and began to research how other Institutes functioned and what official approvals would be required.  The word ‘Institute’ is a legally protected word (it can only be used if certain conditions are met), and needs the support from the relevant Government department – in our case DCMS. From our earliest discussions, it was clear we would be required not only to embrace national standards but also to create a career structure within our profession, encompassing, for example, those doing walking tours, fixed route open top bus or river boat tours and site guides. 

We funded the mapping by an independent consultant of the London Blue Badge qualification   against the NVQ Level 4 and it was entered on the National Qualifications Map, thus demolishing ETB and TTENTO’s argument that it was only Level 3.

More than 300 BBGs made a pledge of one day’s guiding fee towards the launch of the Institute (happily never redeemed). We built up an extensive portfolio of support from right across the country, and established a Consultative Council of the key players in the tourism industry, as well as academics, users of guide services, representatives of central and local government, the Tourism Society, TTENTO and the British Tourist Authority, who were extremely supportive and offered invaluable counsel.  Much persuasion of key industry figures was also done at ETB Forum meetings and, particularly, Tourism Society meetings.


March 1999: Proposal for an Institute of Tourist Guiding submitted – and rejected

By early 1999, our proposal, supported by a detailed Business Plan, was submitted to DCMS. On 24 March 1999 Katrine, Tom and Fiona met with the Head of Tourism, full of optimism that we were almost there. We were shattered to have the proposal rejected out of hand, with no clear reasons given. In retrospect it was clear that the proposal had been sabotaged by the Training Director of ETB, who did not want BBGs to be responsible for guide training standards.

In April 1999 LTB closed its tourist guiding department, increasing the sense of urgency. We had, immediately, to assume responsibility for the annual registration of London BBGs. So a limited company was set up, the Tourist Guiding Foundation (TGF), a member of staff was employed, and work continued on developing the Institute proposal.


March 2000: National consultation and further developments

In March 2000, a consultation meeting for BBGs to discuss the latest proposals was held at Friends’ Meeting House in London, under an independent chairman. This was a particularly acrimonious meeting at which the steering group were attacked by a small group of guides, who had misunderstood the proposals and who had been encouraged by ETB to sabotage them.

The chief complaints were that BBGs could not be trusted to run the profession, that the steering group were ‘lining their pockets’ and stood to make money out of it.  All of which was untrue (most of the group gave up work and some even funded the project personally). The most important outcome of the meeting was the decision to abandon the idea of having only two block subscribers (the Guild and APTG) and, instead, to have individual membership. 

Further negotiations with ETB (by now ETC) and TTENTO continued throughout the summer. Criteria were developed for the three educational levels - level 4 (Blue Badge), level 3 (Green badge) and level 2 (sites and fixed route commentaries) - and work continued on equivalence, both national (with universities) and international.


Fiona Grant and Tom HooperFiona Grant and Tom Hooper with their MBEs in 2004


2000-2001: More nationwide consultation with the tourism industry and tourist guides

In September 2000 the new CEO of ETC called an industry-wide meeting, with TGF, to discuss the proposals, which was attended by RTB directors, an independent training provider, a driver guide company, an open top bus company and users of guide services as well as guides both from TGF and from Scotland (STGA).

As a result of this meeting, ETC set up and funded a working party, under the distinguished chairmanship of Professor Ludwik Finkelstein, who was Vice Chancellor of City University and instrumental in setting up the Institute of Measurement and Control.  Another working group felt like a kick in the teeth but it was soon apparent that Prof Finkelstein saw the merit in our proposal and he made our case with admirable clarity to the few tourist boards that were still uncertain. He knew what was required to gain the necessary approval and gave us invaluable advice, particularly regarding the complex inter-relationship between the Institute’s various functions and the appropriate structure for carrying these out. With his help, we refined our proposals and finalised the business plan.

From April to October 2001 we undertook a nationwide consultation with guides, regional and national guiding associations and practitioners and interested parties from the whole industry – with meetings in Birmingham, Cambridge, Exeter, Guildford, London, Manchester and York.


2002: Government approval and launch of the Institute

Finally, in March 2002, The DTI4 approved our application and in the following month, the Institute of Tourist Guiding was launched at a reception hosted by the Minister of Tourism, Kim Howells, in the Palace of Westminster, at which, with considerable pride, Professor Finkelstein accepted the role of Companion of the new Institute. Documentation was drafted – Memorandum and Articles of Association, Bye-Laws, codes of conduct and disciplinary procedures. A logo was designed, as well as stationery, certificates, registration cards, promotional material etc.  In April 2002 we agreed a formal accord between the Institute and the Scottish Guides (STGA), who had been so supportive throughout our long struggle.


Further steps, negotiations and progress

Discussions and negotiations continued with tourist boards regarding the qualification, with some demanding substantial sums for ownership of the Blue and Green badges. But eventually agreements were reached transferring ownership to the Institute – for £1 per tourist board.

In November 2002, the first Institute AGM was held at the British Museum and a new Board was elected, with Tom and Fiona as Joint Presidents for the first full year of the Institute’s operation.


2003: New logo, end of tourist boards

2003 saw a professional redesign of the logo and the Institute Blue and Green badges and the launch of the Institute website. Licensing agreements were drafted for the use of the Badge images by associations and other interested parties.

In 2003 the tourist boards were abolished.  Regional Development Agencies (RDAs) took over some of their functions but in some regions tourism was largely disregarded.


The story continues

In 2004 Tom and Fiona were awarded the MBE for services to tourism and in 2006 Elizabeth Keatinge was also awarded the MBE. Katrine had been awarded the OBE in 1999. Throughout the development process we took care to involve tourist guides across the country.  Nothing would have been achieved without the contribution of so very many willing colleagues.

Other important milestones since 2004 are not recorded here but, suffice it to say, that all those who have dedicated their skill, time and energy to the continuing development of the Institute since then deserve our wholehearted gratitude and support.


Today: reflections on the last 17 years

One of the undoubted spin-offs of setting up the Institute was the raising of the profile and status of tourist guiding in the industry nationwide. For the first time close contacts were made and maintained at the highest level of the bodies working in our sector. From the start we realised that our first task was to convince those with whom we dealt that we had the business skills and experience to run our profession. 

We took on a Herculean task, but we are left with a sense of pride that today tourist guides hold their profession in their own hands.  The tourist boards are long gone and in a number of sectors (particularly where knowledge is a key factor), NVQs have been discredited. Our qualifications might have been comprehensively downgraded – if indeed they still existed. Who knows who might own our Blue or Green Badges now?  As it is, the standards of our hard-won qualifications are secure.  The establishment of the Institute is without doubt the most significant joint achievement of the Guild and APTG to date.


Fiona Grant and Tom Hooper

February 2015



1. Department for Culture, Media and Sport.

2. NVQs had recently been introduced in all sectors.  In 1996-7 Katrine Prince and others had participated in the writing of the level 3 and 4 standards for our sector and a number of us qualified as NVQ assessors in order to stay abreast of NVQ developments. However, we all remained unconvinced that the NVQ framework was appropriate or workable for tourist guiding because of the emphasis on workplace assessment and the absence of rigorous knowledge testing.

3. Department of Trade and Industry, which grants formal approval, based on the recommendation of DCMS.

Further reading:

For a more complete history of the Institute, please enjoy the aticle 'Establishment of the Institute of Tourist Guiding', co-authoried by Fiona Grant and Tom Hooper in 2013.