Although traveling with Champion from Sicily to Sweden was stressful to say the least, it was probably one of the most gratifying and exciting adventures I’ve ever had. What truly made it satisfying was the chance to share my passion for travel and my favorite spots around Europe with him. It reinforced my idea of one day leading small group tours, “Runaway Tours,” through either Central America, South East Asia, or Eastern Europe.
So I decided to get back in touch with a really cool Brazilian named Madson. Madson’s love for travel, meeting new people, and entrepreneurial mind led him to start his own tour company in his home town of Rio De Janeiro.
If you’re considering becoming a tour guide or if you’re looking for cool guide in Rio De Janeiro, check out the interview below.
1) Tell us a bit about yourself, travel experience, knowledge of Brazil?
In the late 1990’s I decided to learn a couple of languages to work in the tourist business in Rio de Janeiro. But I didn’t just wanted to enroll at a language school in Rio de Janeiro; I wanted to immerse myself in the language abroad. Then, I packed and headed to Margarita Island in Venezuela to learn Spanish. I was hooked! I loved so much living abroad and learning a second language that I headed to France to learn French, then to Italy to learn Italian. I kept moving and lived in Copenhagen (Denmark) and Stockholm (Sweden). I did not learn Danish or Swedish; English was my working language for several years in Scandinavia. In the meantime I backpacked in 20 countries.
Before and after my trip abroad I have travelled a reasonable amount of times in Brazil, mostly to getaways near Rio de Janeiro (Paraty, Ilha Grande, Buzios, Petrópolis), to São Paulo, and to warm-all-year-around destinations in the Brazil’s Northeast such as Recife, Natal, Fortaleza, Salvador, Morro de São Paulo (I love this island!), Manaus, and the Amazon.
2) How did you get started as a tour guide?
In mid-2000’s I returned to Rio de Janeiro. Upon arriving I enrolled at a tour guide school, and towards the end of the course I offered my tour guide freelancer services to dozens of travel agencies. In a matter of weeks I was working as a tour guide in Rio de Janeiro. A couple of years later I was unsatisfied with the little workload I was having (I had too many free days per month). To turn it around, I set up a website and started marketing it. In a few weeks tour requests starting hitting my email inbox. Then, I gradually started working more for clients originated from my website and less for clients from the travel agencies. Eventually I discontinued my partnership with the travel agencies.
3) What’s the hardest part about running your own business?
There are several ‘hardest parts’ of running a business like mine. First of all, I am an one-man company (and don’t plan to expand it), so I have to do it all. Among the drawbacks of this business are:
Few weekends off – A lot of the demand for tours is for the weekends, so I work almost every Saturday and Sunday. I don’t work on Sunday afternoons though, but I usually wake-up at 6:30 a.m. on Sundays and Saturdays to work. So, I rarely go partying on the weekends. And there is plenty to do in Rio on Friday and Saturday nights. I frequently decline invitations to birthday parties, family gatherings, weekend getaways, etc. A professional tour guide needs to be in great shape on a tour.
Too much demand in the high season and not as much afterwards – During the high season (November through March) I have a lot of requests for tours; more than I can handle. But it’s hard to say ‘no’ to a tour request, so I usually end up booking too many tours. So, for five-six months I work a lot (in the heat of Rio!), make good money, but I am exhausted when I get home every night. On the other hand, in the mid- and low-season I work much less, earn much less, and I am not tired from working. I have more time but less money. That’s why saving money in the high season is mandatory. Not having a balanced workload all year around is a hard part of this business.
There is a lot of competition nowadays – When I set up my website back in 2007 there was very little competition on line; most tour guides were working only as freelancers for tour operators and travel agencies. I was the king online! Lately, many tour guides set up their pages online, and the competition is fierce. I can’t lower my guard, otherwise I lose space.
4) What’s your favorite thing about being a tour guide?
My favorite things are:
Meeting different people – I meet different people almost every day. So far, I have guided more than 4,500 people from 35 different nationalities.
Speaking foreign languages – Foreign languages is my passion. Almost every day I speak several hours of either English or French. I rarely speak Italian or Spanish as almost never have clients who speak those languages. I am Brazilian, so my mother tongue is Portuguese.
5) What can people expect on your tour of Rio de Janeiro?
Great vibe – I am always in a good mood, so the tours are entertaining. People have a great time.
Efficiency – I have been to the same sites hundreds of times over and over again for several years, at different times, on different days, crowded, empty, cloudy, etc. I have made many mistakes in the first years, but now the tours are fine-tuned in a way that they are near-perfect.
Balance – I include many ingredients in my private tours’ recipe: a bit of walking, a bit of car ride, a bit of talking, a bit of listening, a bit of visiting together, a bit of space for my clients wander at the tourist attractions, a brief stop for a drink or a bite, a bit of history. Then, I adjust from ‘a bit’ to ‘a bit more’ to ‘a lot’ of whatever my client is more inclined to.
6) What advice would you give to people wanting to create their own private tour companies?
Focus on specialty tours – If you love nature and adventure offer tours related to that. If you love history offer tours with focus on history. If you love food offer a food tour. But previously research to confirm if there is demand for that in the city you are considering start your endeavor.
Aim at excellence – ‘Very good’ is no longer good enough in a market where people review your services online for everyone to read. Your service needs to be five stars, hence the importance of focusing on the area you love and want to learn more and more about it, to be able to offer a better and better experience.
Be patient – It usually takes time to build a reputation.