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How to become a tour guide: advice from New York's most successful guides


Alina Prikhodko

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If you're passionate about history, culture, or cooking, or have some unique information about the area, you've probably thought about starting your own walking tour business.

New York Post shared the inspiring stories of five entrepreneurs who managed to create their own companies in this area.

Gabriel Schoenberg, Graff Tours

Schoenberg's uncle was a tour guide for many years, and the entrepreneur worked for him in college to earn extra money. “I saw a graffiti art tour in Buenos Aires and thought it was amazing, so I adapted it for New York,” he said of the 2013 Bushwick business's origins.

The Greenpoint resident now makes “several thousand” a month through Graff Tours, his only business. In addition to tours, his company offers graffiti art classes and hosts painting events.

“A good guide is a passion for your chosen topic, so only work in the field that you love,” says Schoenberg, and recommends becoming more familiar with your area of ​​interest to become an even greater expert in that field.

Seth Kamil, Big Onion Walking Tours

Kamil, who lives in the South Slope, has been running the business in New York for 33 years. The company was born “by chance and out of economic necessity” when two Columbia University graduate students, Kamil and his co-founder Ed O'Donnell, needed to make money.

The couple made a commitment to only hire graduate students and recently unemployed PhDs, which “still remains the core of our business model,” Kamil says. O'Donnell left the company, but Kamil still runs Big Onion to this day.

To succeed in this industry, according to Kamil, you need to be original. “Read books, articles, but don’t take tours run by other guides to expand your knowledge base,” he advises.

Alana Hoye Barnaba Ahoy New York Food Tours

Hoye Barnaba moved to New York from Gloversville. In her new place, her relatives often visited her on weekends, and she introduced them to the area.

“I realized that I have a talent for sharing knowledge and impressions about my city, so I began working as a volunteer in Big Apple Greeter“- this is how she commented on the cooperation with a free organization that connects visitors with residents who are ready to share their knowledge about the city.

On the subject: The XNUMX Coolest Walking Tours in New York

She eventually decided to get her tour guide license to become an official tour guide, and spent time developing what has now become the operator's signature tour, a walking tour of Chinatown and Little Italy. In 2010, Hoye Barnaba began working full time.

Along with finding your niche, Hoye Barnaba believes organization is key. “If you're going to hire staff, prepare appropriate training materials and teach your employees consistency so that your product is the same quality no matter who's giving the tour,” she advised.

The company hopes to become a travel agency with a turnover of $1 million in 2024. “Last year we were short by quite a bit,” Barnaba said.

Todd Lefkovich Foods of NY Tours

Lefkovich is originally from Cranford, New Jersey and works in Greenwich Village. Even as a child, he became interested in New York, watching local news and reading newspapers. In the summer of 1977, at the age of 15, he began to venture into the city to explore.

Lefkowicz still remembers fondly the first time he walked onto 42nd Street. “It was full of salons, XXX cinemas, prostitutes, pimps, drug dealers and street kids. For me, coming from Cranford (a quiet and clean suburban town), this was the best thing I have ever experienced!”

Lefkovich continued to bring friends, family and girlfriends to the city. He did all this on his own, never took a taxi or took the subway. “The only real way to explore the city is on foot,” says Lefkovich.

His official business began in 1998, and a year later it became his full-time job. He currently runs food tours five days a week. Although the pandemic has crippled his business (in 2019, gross income was $3 million, now it is $1,1 million), this is still not a meager amount.

To grow your business, go to lesser-known places, the tour guru advises: “Create your own food tour in an area that isn't crowded with other food tours.”

Stephen Oddo Walks Tours

Although Oddo lives in Boston, his company provides tours in New York City, as well as 24 other cities in North America and Europe.

The idea of ​​creating the company arose in 2008, when Oddo was living in Rome and working as a guide in the Vatican and the Colosseum. “I wanted to show people new ways to experience these monuments, so I emphasized quality guides, small groups and unique itineraries,” he explained.

In 2014, Walks Tours expanded its operations to New York City. She offered small group walking tours of the park near the Statue of Liberty, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the 9/11 Memorial. In 2022, Walks became the official tour operator of Grand Central Terminal.

Last year, Oddo served as a mentor for the Alliance for Downtown New York's Walking Tour Incubator Grant Program, which provides money to entrepreneurs starting walking tours in lower Manhattan.

While most Walks guides work part-time, Oddo hires many of them to write articles for his travel blogs and create content on social media. “Their knowledge of the area is incredibly valuable,” he said, noting that guides around the world typically earn between $40 and $80 an hour.

Oddo's top tips for new guides? Be sure to collect and publish good customer reviews to build trust with future customers.

“Creating quality social media videos on platforms like Instagram and TikTok is very valuable, especially in New York,” he noted. “You will need to find creative ways to reach potential customers who already have a lot of choices when it comes to experiences.”

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