The concept of a free walking tour has generated some confusion and controversy with the growing protests by associations and tour guide groups. They affirm that this type of collaborative tours provoke an unfair situation with respect to the official guides since they must obtain accreditation that allows them to practice as guides, while in the case of free tours, they do not. Before beginning to assess the controversy, we will get to know in depth what is a free tour, how does it work, whether they are free or not, how much should be paid, and if they are legal.
It is convenient to clarify three terms that we will use in this article:
- ‘Walker’: traveler or tourist.
- ‘Guru’: local guide.
- ‘A guruwalk’: a free tour.
Free walking tour: Concept
There is no official definition of free tour, but it could be defined as a pay-what-you-feel tour based on tips that are paid to the local guide. This type of tour can last between 1-4 hours (some last even more) although usually, it is two hours. You can choose to take a guided tour of the essential places in a city, visiting the most emblematic buildings, monuments, parks and streets through the center or historical center, although they are not the only ones. There are also other types of more specific routes that focus on a particular neighborhood or on a specific theme that is characteristic of that city.
Differences between a walking tour and a guided tour
The difference between a guruwalk and a traditional tour lies in the way in which the service is offered by the guide as the remuneration received will be subject to the positive experience of his or her walker. Because of this, walkers get to see a guru who is receptive to the way they want to check out the city, if the group prefers a more relaxed, less formal style, the guru can immediately respond to that and if they prefer a high energy tour through the top spots, the guru can also respond to that desire and will surely get a bigger tip at the end for their work.
Another factor to keep in mind is that a guruwalk can be booked for free, with the cancellation also being free. This allows you to have more flexibility when it comes to organizing your trip, although if possible, be respectful and try to notify the guru as soon as possible so that he or she can organize around that.
Additionally, one of the most important differences and that set this type of service apart is the price. A guruwalk is a pay-what-you-please tour, which means that each walker will give the tip that he or she considers fair after having enjoyed the guided tour.
The legal controversy about free walking tours
The legality of this service has raised much controversy in recent years. As we have said, tour guide associations and groups have raised their voices and consider that this type of tour presents a threat to their job security, as well as lowering the price of their work by breaking the current price barrier. Furthermore, it is criticized that since the tip is not considered a payment, the guides do not declare it as a profit before the Public Administration that corresponds to it in each case.
Now let’s explain why a free tour is legal and fully compatible with other services such as traditional payment tours. First of all, gurus that offer a guided tour must have the necessary certification in accordance with the local legislation in which they offer that activity. It should be remembered that not all cities and regions need to be qualified to offer a service of this type and that existing certifications are quite varied depending on the country in which the tour takes place.
Regarding the tax aspect, a guru who is registered as a freelancer can declare his earnings on his quarterly statement, including making receipts and dividing the VAT to show the walkers at the time of receiving a tip.
Regarding the price, since it is a more accessible service for the user, the volume of reservations that a free tour receives is greater than that received by the traditional one. That means that there is a greater number of walkers with a profit potential that can exceed the remuneration established per each tour with the traditional model.
How do free walking tours work?
Now that we know what free tours are, let’s see how they work and what the walker should do to enjoy this service. Actually, the process is really simple since, once you have your destination clear, all you have to do is enter the city page, choose a tour and reserve. Let’s put a couple of examples to make it more clear.
Booking a free walking tour in Florence
Your destination is Florence, it is not the first time you are going and you are interested in learning more about a specific part of the city: Renaissance Initiation. This would be the process:
- Go to the free walking tours in Florence.
- Choose a guruwalk that suits your choice.
- Select a date among the tour options.
- Make your reservation for the number of people.
- Go to the meeting point and enjoy the experience.
Booking a free walking tour in Barcelona
First time you visit Barcelona and want to see the essential and most emblematic places of the city, a first contact with the culture of Barcelona. In this case, you should:
- Go to the free walking tours in Barcelona.
- Choose a guruwalk that suits your choice: Historic Center Tour or Old Town Tour (very similar options).
- Select a date among the tour options.
- Make your reservation for the number of people you are going to go to.
- Go to the meeting point and enjoy the experience.
There are some walkers who, once they have made the first free tour to get to know the city, book a second more specific guruwalk on a theme or neighborhood of the city (ex: Gothic Quarter of Barcelona)
Where and at what time?
If you have already booked your free tour, the next thing you should do is prepare yourself to enjoy your tour and take a good look at both the time and the meeting place. Normally, being ten or five minutes before is enough to start the tour without problems. Out of respect for the walkers who have arrived on time, the normal thing is that no one waits for anyone and that the guruwalk starts on time. In the event that you are late, you can always contact the guru to ask at what point of the route they are to re-enlist.
** We advise you to try to be punctual since, in that way, you will be able to enjoy the complete tour and it will give you time to see more things.
The meeting point is usually an easily accessible place in the center of the city where you have hired the free tour. Normally, the guru will indicate the color of the umbrella that will be used to make it easier to identify you at the meeting point.
How many people can participate?
There are no exact figures, but it is normal to not exceed 35 people per free tour. That does not mean that there will never be more, but gurus prefer not to exceed that number as they seek a more personal and close deal with the walkers. In fact, it is so flexible that guruwalks of 4-5 people can also be seen as it is the local guide himself who puts the minimum number of people there must be for the guided tour to be confirmed.
So… walking tours are not free?
If you’ve got this far, I think you’ll know the answer. Free walking tours are not free, although at the time of translating this term is done in the wrong way (free tour). What is free (free) is to book on our platform, as well as cancel or not attend (if you are not going to go to the guruwalk, it is a detail that you will thank very much.
The key to this explanation is simple, they are not free because the service offered by a local guide is the same or better than the one you can receive on a paid tour, that guide is passionate about what he does but also expects a remuneration for it although, obviously, it is not obligatory to leave a tip finish the tour. Like any person, the guru needs to pay his bills and has his expenses, it is logical to think that his work deserves reward (variable, but reward).
How much to tip a free walking tour guide?
It is one of the doubts that can be have the walker at the time of giving the tip.There is no fixed price per walker when paying the local guide as some give between € 10 and € 15, another € 20-30 or some even € 50. The usual average in this type of tips is usually around 10 euros. It adapts to the experience you have experienced during the guided tour as well as the economic capacity of each traveler. There will be some who consider € 10 fair, others who consider it little and others too. It is common for families traveling with small children not to pay for them, saving money with respect to free-of-charge tours that do not contemplate this casuistry.
Is the price of the tickets included?
It does not include the price of tickets to museums, exhibitions or any place where you have to pay to access. The walker will pay the entrance fee but always be notified in the description of the tours if there is an activity that is paid on the tour. Similarly, if during the free tour you have to take public transport, it is normal for each person to pay their ticket to take the bus, tram or metro.
Can I do a free walking tour anywhere in the world?
Well, it depends, but we like to think so. In GuruWalk we want to expand this way of knowing new cities all over the world. Initially, it only existed in Germany, but over the years, it is increasingly common to find free tours anywhere in the world. Not only in countries like Spain, Italy, United Kingdom, Portugal or Greece, but also in America (Colombia, Peru, United States, Mexico…), Asia (Vietnam, Japan, India…), Oceania (Australia…) or Africa (South Africa, Uganda, Congo …).
This means that anywhere in the world that there is a local guide wanting to show your city, you can do it through our platform. The limit lies in the curiosity of each one when exploring the world in which we live. You can compare different free walking tours to choice the best for you.
There are many official guides who choose to offer paid tours and free tours , combining both services in their day to day. If you want to know more about how to create your first tour or how our guide community works, you can see it on this page: How to become a free tour guide?