Warning! Unfortunately your browser has disabled scripting. Please enable it in order to display this page.



Britain’s professional tourist guides, unable to work for over a year due to the severe drop-off in both domestic and inbound tourism, normally deliver over £40M annually to the UK economy – yet nearly 50% are not receiving any financial support to stay in business, claims a survey published today

“Tourism is one of this country’s great success stories.  Professional tourist guides are recognised by the travel industry as hard-working ambassadors for Britain”, says Carole Hiley, President of the Institute of Tourist Guiding.

“It’s not just our fees and tips that guides bring to the economy.  Wider economic benefits which guides deliver to local communities include considerable expenditure on transport, restaurants, pubs, accommodation, entry fees to tourist sites, voluntary donations to museums, shopping (including tickets to theatres and souvenirs), and so on. Taxes that guides pay on their income, combined with the wider tax take from related tourism activities, make us extremely good value to the UK economy.

Unfortunately, however, increasing numbers of our members are experiencing severe hardship. Our work is seasonal, and we love it with a passion – but, like so many self-employed people, guides are now having to retrain for any work they can find.  This includes younger guides, the precious lifeblood of the guiding market for years to come.

“We desperately call on the Chancellor for fair treatment for self-employed guides in his budget so that we can survive, ready to go, when inbound and domestic tourism both start to roll again”, she states.

Many see Britain’s professional tourist guides as the best-trained in the world, with the famous ‘Blue Badge’ tourist guides as the crème de la crème, enjoying as they do exclusive guiding rights at iconic tourist sites such as the Tower of London, Westminster Abbey and Windsor Castle.

“This year we should be celebrating the 70th anniversary of professional guiding, since the Blue Badge system was set up in 1951 for the Festival of Britain”, adds the ITG’s President.  “I’ve worked in tourism for 45 years and I have seen it come through major disruptions including 9/11, domestic terrorism and the credit crunch - but it’s never been anything like this bad for professional guides,” she claims.  “Many guides participating in our survey are calling for psychological help. It’s heart-breaking to see this happening.

Today’s membership survey, carried out on behalf of the professional guiding associations, was the largest in professional guiding history. It showed that 44% of guides are not getting government SEISS payments. (SEISS is the government support fund for freelancers.)

“Although it is good to know that some 50% of our members have received meaningful financial support from the SEISS scheme, we were shocked to learn that as many as 44% of guides have not been eligible. We’ve also learned that other grants and loan schemes, including Universal Credit and the Additional Restrictions Grant, have delivered only very limited benefits to self-employed guides”, claims Hiley.  She continues:  “We’re open to creative ideas from the Treasury about how to support those Guides who have slipped through the safety net, as well as continuing meaningful financial support from schemes such as SEISS.”

Based on income figures reported to the tax authorities, the survey indicates that professional guides bring in an estimated £41.5M annually to the UK economy. 

“Tourist guides are a critical part of the UK’s £127BN tourism industry and normally rely on seasonal work, yet some have been struggling to know how they will pay the rent and put food on their tables for months now. This is why some, with broken hearts, are considering leaving the profession”, Hiley adds.

“Guides have swiftly developed virtual tours and, after lockdown, we’re hoping to show off parts of Britain this summer that staycationers have never seen - but Guides need financial support now to keep our small businesses afloat during these exceptionally tough times. Then we can play a valuable part in the recovery of what is one of Britain’s most important industry sectors”, concludes Hiley. 

Ends/18th February, 2021

Notes for Editors:

1. Background to the £41.5M figure in the survey released today: Guides’ services (fees plus tips, without travel trade mark-up) may be reasonably estimated at £41.5M based on figures reported in guides’ HMRC income tax returns for the past four years - those very same tax returns that (in part) have been used by HMRC to assess eligibility for the government’s SEISS compensation scheme.

2.   House of Commons Treasury Committee report – published 15th February, 2021


A cross-party House of Commons committee has been assessing the economic impact of Coronavirus. In its latest (third) report it states, in the summary:  “We recognise that it may not have been possible for the Government to help all those who have fallen through the cracks of the support schemes. However, we are disappointed that the Government has so far shown no inclination to expand or provide alternatives to the SEISS, which is providing a vital lifeline to many but is not available to all those whom we believe should qualify. We recommend that the Government looks at other models of support, including those developed by the devolved administrations, with a view to extending support to people who require support and who do not currently qualify.”

3Prospect (the trade union) published a report titled “Inquiry into the future of self-employment” on 12th Feb 2021


“The report argues that self-employed workers in the UK face too much risk, and that action is needed to tip the scales back in the direction of additional security and protection. The Inquiry found that self-employed workers had been hit incredibly hard by the pandemic, and as a result many were considering leaving their businesses in the future.”

4.  Visit Britain Tourism data - https://www.visitbritain.org/value-tourism-england

5.   The Institute of Tourist Guiding - https://www.itg.org.uk/courses/getting-your-training-course-approved/ - The Institute accredits training courses accepted by the European Federation of Tourist Guide Associations (FEG) - https://www.feg-touristguides.com/.  The Institute of Tourist Guiding represents qualified guides of all badge colours for England, Jersey and Northern Ireland. It represents nearly 2,000 qualified guides.

Blue Badge Tourist Guides - regional guides - e.g. South East, Heart of England, London

Green Badge Tourist Guides - cities - e.g. Manchester, Chester, City of London

White Badge Tourist Guides - guide at sites - e.g. Tower Bridge, Hampton Court.

Press:  For further information/broadcast or print interviews, contact either Mark King, the professional tourist guide who carried out the survey on behalf of the guiding associations - mark@kings5.co.uk/07931 765666, or Carole Hiley, president@itg.org.uk

Issued on behalf of the ITG by Travel PR (Karen Carpenter, k.carpenter@travelpr.co.uk /07879 458482).