Group tourism depends on guides who provide services as part of multi-day ‘closed-door’ tours and a wide range of in-destination products. For over 30 years, ETOA has argued for the freedom to provide this essential service. There has been progress, notably within the ‘single market’ arrangements of the European Union (EU). Some countries that used to regulate guiding no longer do so, transforming the market.  

Given the constraints in countries that regulate guiding as well as technological advance, it is no coincidence that digital guides are developing fast. Apps that can respond to current conditions and deliver content in a range of languages are getting cheaper and more sophisticated. These can transform visitor experience in destination and within attractions. But city tourism remains a human encounter, and ‘live’ tour guides enable visitors to make the most of their time. 

Depending on individual tour guides’ status and place of establishment, their rights to provide services vary. More detail on this in Guiding Regulations. This page contains an overview of the 13 countries in the EU regulating tour guiding and the current legislation on the area.

ETOA’s policy objectives 

  • Freedom to provide guiding services 
  • An innovative, value-adding and competitive market for guided product 
  • Recognition and support for non-European professionals providing services in Europe 

What we are doing 

  • Lobbying for fit-for-purpose regulation  
  • Providing operational and legal guidance and support 
  • Promoting widespread recognition of the value of tour guides 

Two distinct challenges remain that affect client service and operational cost, and inhibit innovation: 

  • Some countries regulate guiding, thus anyone providing services must meet regulatory requirements; these may vary according to individual service provider’s country of establishment, experience and qualifications. 
  • Most tour guides are self-employed and thus outside the scope of ‘working time directive’; care must be taken to support the contractual relationship required. 
  • Immigration rules must be respected but may not support current practice. For example, it is a requirement under the ADS scheme that the groups from China to the EU are accompanied by a Chinese guide.  
  • Business visitor arrangements are poorly adapted for occasional, seasonal work; nor do they suit other professional travelling with groups, e.g. music teachers travelling with a high-school performing arts group. 

ETOA’s Tour Guide ID Card scheme evolved as a practical response. It is a photo-ID card available to professionals contracted by ETOA members. In 2019 we issued over 2,500 cards.  


ETOA Tour Guide ID card

There is a need for a widely accepted definition that includes the delivery of cultural commentary, the very activity that is subject to unreasonable and in some cases illegitimate disruption in various European cities. 

The reasons why ETOA uses the term ‘tour guide’ are:  

  • tour guides are required to deliver cultural commentary 
  • the term ‘tour guide’ is generic and familiar to consumers.  

Tour guides are one category among various tourism professionals who may provide guiding services to tourists. While levels and areas of expertise may vary, all are required to deliver cultural information. Ambiguities that can arise through translation are evident. ‘Tour guide’ and ‘tourist guide’ are used interchangeably and are often simplified to ‘guide’. 

Tour guides may work with the same group over a period of days on a closed-circuit tour or on a specialist walking tour. Typically, there is a prescribed itinerary to follow; equally, part of the role may be to enable customers to make the most of any free time. Other professionals working with tourists include local guides, museum guides, cathedral guides, palace guides and other site-specific guides. 

Other terms in English to refer to someone performing a tour guide’s function include: delegation manager; docent; programme manager; study leader; tour director; tour leader; tour manager.  

It is in the interests of the consumer that they should be able to receive professional services from the individual they wish. It is also in the interest of the individual that they may freely provide those services. 

Tour Guide ID card

Guiding regulations

Tour guides contracted by ETOA members are eligible to apply for an ID card.

Learn more

For ETOA members only: Further information about guiding regulations in Europe.

Learn more