London Begins at 40 talks with Niger Homer a London tour guide with ToursByLocals, he explains the benefits of being shown the highlights of the capital by an expert.
Tell us a little bit about yourself. What made you want to become a London tour guide?
I am a ToursByLocals UK tour guide, specialising in customised walking and driving tours in London and beyond. I became a tour guide because I have always loved travelling. I spent 25 years working in the pharmaceutical industry and saw a lot of the world during that time. When I decided to leave the corporate world, tour guiding was an obvious choice. Also, as I studied history at university and taught it at secondary school level for five years, I knew that one day I would come back to work in the area, revisiting the past.
I really enjoy showing people around this remarkable world city, introducing them to Londoners and helping them get a taste of local life. I get a real buzz from seeing them marvel at a range of different sights which we, as locals, often take for granted.
What value do you think travellers are placing on using a tour guide in London these days?
Travellers use a private tour guide in London because we can add huge value and insight to their holiday experience. We can provide a window on the cultural and historical context of what they see around them, and if we provide it in an accessible and entertaining way, we build a bond with the travellers. This is often as valuable as seeing and learning about the places that are featured in the guidebooks.
There has always been a swathe of travellers who value local tour guides but since the pandemic I have noticed there has been an increased level of interest in private, customisable tours as there are concerns about travelling in large groups, whether it be walking around the city or being driven in a confined space like a bus, coach or train. Touring with a fully vaccinated guide who is clearly taking the guidance on PPE and social distancing seriously, is a factor in the choices that travellers are making these days.
What is the benefit of taking a tour guide for London rather than exploring an area on your own?
There are many benefits to taking a local guide. One of the most important advantages is the time that you can save. Holiday time is precious. Local London tour guides know how to get from A to B quickly and efficiently which in London is so important. We know the best places to eat and drink, whether it’s a slap-up meal in a smart restaurant or a good local pub or coffee shop.
We know the off-the-beaten-track sites which even many locals are not aware of. We also know the stories behind these places which are not necessarily in the brochures and travel books. Using a local guide often saves time and money for travellers wanting to experience as much as they can in the few days that they spend in a destination and takes the worry and hassle out of organising it.
How did you adapt your tours in the wake of the pandemic?
The restrictions have had a huge impact on the tour guiding industry. No tourists, no work. I had a few tours in September 2021 when the restrictions were lifted and indeed a few tours over the Christmas period. Otherwise, it has been very quiet.
In terms of adapting my tours, I follow the guidance provided by ToursByLocals – wearing masks and using a hand sanitiser, no physical contact, cleaning my vehicle before every tour etc. I also choose places to eat or drink which follow London’s restrictions and try to avoid crowds.
One trend that I have noticed is an increased number of bookings for tours with a longer duration. I now have tours booked up from between two to 10 days over the coming months. I believe this is due to the fact that many travellers want the security of a trusted local guide who they will spend all their time with to minimise exposure to the virus whilst touring.
Which of your tours would you recommend for a first-time visitor to London?
I would recommend my First Time in London Tour. During day one we see all the main sights in the West End and within the City of Westminster, combining some walking and some driving. On Day two we do the same thing in the City of London, a hugely underestimated area of London for travellers. So many wonderful places to explore here. The aim is to provide travellers with an overview of what London has to offer, then, depending on time, they can go back and visit any of these places at their leisure. As with all guiding, one of the most important skills is to get to know your travellers, ideally before the tour begins, so that you can focus on the places and sights that really interest them.
If you still wih to find your own way around the capital, these two London guidebooks could give you a helping hand.
Any tips for someone booking their first tour with a private guide?
Firstly, work out what you most want to see and do. Make a list. Secondly, do a bit of research on what different guides have to offer. There are some amazing guides on the ToursByLocals website who cover a huge range of speciality areas, as well visiting the more iconic spots. Guides on the ToursByLocals platform tailor-make tours which means if you want to visit a particular attraction or would like to stay somewhere for longer then it is entirely possible.
I would also encourage users to read tour guide reviews and get a feel for what tours they can offer and what kind of personalities they bring to the table. After all, you may be spending quite a lot of time together.
What is your favourite thing about being a tour guide in the UK?
Meeting different travellers from abroad who come from all walks of life. Seeing them experience places that they have dreamed of visiting is very satisfying, and good fun. I have guided many travellers who I now consider to be friends and that is really rewarding.
London Tour Guide
For more information on booking a private tour guide in London or elsewhere in the world, visit the ToursByLocals website.