The Free Tour concept has been around for quite a while but is a relatively new way to discover cities compared to the traditional tour concept, which of course has a much longer legacy. Many of today's younger travellers will likely be aware of, if not familiar with, free walking tours as they’ve become increasingly popular and ever-present in key destinations, and indeed beyond in recent years.
The word ‘free’ has obvious appeal to budget-conscious travellers but it’s also a word that can ring alarm bells; especially in relation to something that traditionally carries with it a relatively substantial cost and makes up a significant part of a particular industry, such as guided tours. But free doesn't mean worthless when it comes to free tours. Quite the contrary. It is by no means the reserve of a strapped backpacker or miserly tourist. It's a concept which actually can be obliged to deliver more than the traditional paid tour and something which can be truly valuable, worthwhile, and rewarding to all types of travellers.
One question we are asked regularly is “how can the tours be free?”. The tours are 'free', because unlike regular tour providers' services, there is no set price for taking a tour, no prescribed fee to pay regardless of the tour experience itself. Instead, you are free to 'tip' your guide as you see fit after your tour.
This is perhaps a 'strange' idea to get used to initially, but there are a number of reasons why this style of touring has taken off as a valid, popular way of discovering cities. As the tour guides don't receive any other income for giving these tours (from any organizations or local bodies), this means they must really earn their tips. As their income will tend to fluctuate from tour to tour, the guides’ motivation to deliver a top-quality tour is ever-present, meaning far less room for complacency on their part than if they were being paid a set amount for a guided tour. The tour itself must be great for the concept to work.
Furthermore, tipping your guide at the end of the tour means the power is yours. Although not obligatory, you decide what the tour was worth or what you can afford, if anything. The value-for-money ratio is determined by you so there is no risk of being 'ripped-off' or feeling like you didn't get your money's worth.
Tip for tips: If you do decide to tip, make sure to bring your maximum tip budget in smaller denominations. This way you can give your guide the perfect amount they deserve as determined by yourself (after the tour of course) without the hassle of having too little if you think they deserved more or offering a large bill only to ask for change back.
The risk factor is burdened by the tour guides as they are reliant on tour participants to actually tip them despite there being no obligation to tip at all. Thankfully, the ever-increasing popularity of free tours and increasing number of free tour providers around the world is testament to the fact that this 'non-conventional' style of city-tours works; that people do see the value in the concept and the unique benefits it offers, receive great quality tour experiences, and are tipping their guides accordingly while saving a very significant amount of their money compared to paid tour equivalents.
In the vast majority of cases, the tour guides who offer free tours are independent, freelance tour guides. They usually tend to be young people attracted by the fact that free tours allow them to be self-employed with a lot of flexibility for working and the guides get to keep their tips as opposed to being paid a fee to earn a decent income for their efforts. Furthermore, these local freelance guides get to inject their own personality into their tours to really give you their local perspective, show you their city, and give you their best tour. The experience tends to be coloured by the guide themselves rather than just relying on a standardized 'tour' or 'script'. This makes for a more authentic, passionate, and rewarding impression of a place and people, history, and culture. Some Free Tours are set-up and run by collectives of local guides in a particular city. Alternatively, others are facilitated by free tour organizations who actively promote and provide assistance to local freelance guides. This is done via effective advertising services across a multitude of channels and partnerships with local accommodation partners in return for a relatively small marketing fee while also ensuring the consistent high quality of the guides and the tours they offer.
All in all the free tour concept is a win-win scenario for both the traveller and local guide. Making authentic local tour experiences accessible to all regardless of budget, free tours are an exciting alternative way to discover cities, save a lot of money, and remain in control of what you spend on a city-tour while supporting passionate local guides and ventures. It's a fantastic thing and we, at FreeTour.com, are flying the flag for the Free Tour concept. Being the first site of its kind on the planet, we make finding top-quality free tours and local guides easier than ever before. With the best Free Tours in cities across 50+ countries worldwide (with more added daily), we provide a one-stop shop with up-to-date, genuine user reviews and ratings as well as reviews powered by TripAdvisor. FreeTour.com is the place to help you make the most of your next city trip with our informative blogs, insider hints, tips, and recommendations. So jump in, you won't regret it!Shanti Summers – the FreeTour.com team