How Much to tip on Tours?

Richard E. Smith of Long Beach, California, urged readers to comment about tipping on tours (April ’07, pg. 4). Questions he asked included 1) “Should the cost of tipping be included in the tour price?,” 2) “Should there be an existing standard for tipping adhered to by most tour companies?,” 3) “Should an escrow tipping account be set up for each traveler, to be refunded partially or in toto (the reason being that some cheapskates never tip a penny)?,” and 4) “Should travel companies be required to advise of their tipping recommendations in their advertisements?

Richard said that for his fall 2006 tour in Central America, Overseas Adventure Travel recommended tipping the driver $3-$4 per day, the trip leader $7-$10 per day and each local guide $3-$4 per day. He wondered what amounts other companies recommended in various countries and how much readers actually ended up tipping. He also invited readers to share what they feel are appropriate amounts to tip drivers, guides, housekeeping, etc.

Some of the responses were printed in the July ’07 issue. Here are a few more. Have something to add? Write to How Much To Tip on Tours?, c/o ITN, 2116 28th St., Sacramento, CA 95818, or e-mail editor@intltravelnews. com (include the address at which you receive ITN). When possible, include which tour company you traveled with, which countries you visited and when (month/year) each tour took place. (Remember, ITN prints no information about destinations in North America or the Caribbean.) Photos are welcome.

I was first sensitized to tipping in a barbershop in Oakland, California. The barber’s customer got up from the chair and handed the barber a 20-dollar note. The barber gave him change and the customer handed him a one-dollar tip.

The barber was outraged. He pointed toward the wall and said, “Don’t you see that sign?” The sign read, ‘Please, no tipping.’ I was impressed with the conversation that followed, which went something like this.

“What do you do?” the barber asked.

“I’m a CPA.”

“Do your clients tip you? Do you tip your doctor? Do you tip your kid’s teacher? I’m a professional, just like you. I charge what I think my haircuts are worth. I do my best work, and I don’t need no tip to encourage me to do a better job. I’m a professional. I’m just as good as you are.”

The barber was right. The practice of tipping is archaic and demeaning to both the giver and the receiver. It is based on a superior/subordinate relationship. It assumes that the recipient will not do his best unless he is paid extra.

I applaud travel companies that include tips in the cost of each tour. This takes courage, since doing so raises the cost of the tour, and prospective clients do compare costs of similar itineraries advertised by competitors. Anyone shopping for a tour should always take care to note whether the tour cost includes tips.

That’s why I am a repeat traveler with Adventures Abroad (Blaine, WA; 800/665-3998, www.adventures They include all tips except that of the tour leader. Bus drivers, porters, local guides, clerks, etc., receive a fixed tip from the company.

I have not noticed any diminution of services due to this policy. If they do not perform as expected, the travel company’s recourse is the same as that of the clients of the CPA and doctor who are not performing as expected. They will decide not to use that person’s services in the future.

Having said that, I hasten to add that I do tip when it is obvious that an employee’s employer pays a low wage, under the assumption that tips will bring his total income to a reasonable level. But I take every opportunity to explain my abhorrence to tipping.

Harlan Hague

Stockton, CA

Of the ideas proposed by Mr. Smith, my favorite is that of the escrow tipping account included in the cost of the tour, but they should advise travelers of the amount included for each service. Agreement should be reached among travel companies as to reasonable amounts for various services. (Most of my travel is with Overseas Adventure Travel, or OAT [Cambridge, MA; 800/221-0814,], whose tip recommendations seem high, to me.) This eliminates the disadvantage of having to carry so much cash for so long. Without an escrow account, if tips are included in the cost, then they are, in effect, guaranteed whether or not quality service is provided.

On one tour (not OAT), our trip leader had laryngitis for the entire 12 days and her help and information were negligible. We all voted for a tip of $4 each and a letter to the company. What would have happened if the guide’s tips had been guaranteed?

I would suggest never “pooling” tips nor having one collector. An unfortunate experience occurred on a tour I was on where the guides did not receive the total given.

Here are some of my tip recommendations:

Housekeeping — $1 per day.

Daily local guides — $1-$2 for half a day, $3-$4 for a full day.

Transport to/from hotel/airport — $0.

Trip leader — $5 per day.

In any case, more can be given where service is exceptional, and it depends on the time put in and the type of service.

Madeleine Mulroy

Downers Grove, IL

To answer Richard Smith’s four initial questions, 1) the cost of tipping trip leaders and others should not be included in the tour price.

2) Since my international travel usually is with tours, I usually follow the tipping parameters suggested by the travel company. My hope is that travel companies base their guidelines on industry norms appropriate for the region visited.

3) Because, to me, tipping is a private matter, I would not like an escrow system. I prefer to enclose my tip with a personal note on stationery brought from home.

4) Since it takes only one trip for a traveler to realize that tips are part of the cost of travel, I see no need for tour companies to advertise their tipping recommendations.

I equate the practice of travel tipping to our tipping in restaurants. In the U.S., the standard restaurant tip is 15%, and customers have the option of increasing the tip for exceptional service or decreasing it for lesser service. My concept of travel tipping is the same. For example, Overseas Adventure Travel suggests a tip of $7-$10 per day for our forthcoming trip to Greece, thus when I budget for this trip I plan a tentative $8.50 per day for the trip leader. Then, based upon performance, the trip leader might ultimately merit more or less per day. Specific recent examples follow:

In January 2002, our OAT Thailand trip leader, Sammy, proved to be superior. He was organized, knowledgeable, energetic and truly enthusiastic about introducing his country and culture to us. He added extra bonuses, such as optional activities during free time, and even arranged a stop for tea at his sister’s experimental farm. In addition, when my glasses broke and I stupidly did not have a spare pair, he helped me find an optician who could pop my lenses into new frames. Sammy’s tip exceeded that suggested.

In October 2002, our General Tours (Keene, NH; 800/221-2216, China trip leader, Ben, proved to be affable, organized, knowledgeable and congenial. Although local guides were used in each city, Ben provided the continuity and daily-life background not provided in guidebooks. Ben’s tip was slightly above the average.

In May 2004, our OAT Turkey trip leader should have stayed in a post-graduate classroom rather than taking travelers to historic sites. He lectured at length and provided very little time for us to experience Turkey’s history and beauty. His tip was a suggested minimum.

In March 2006, our OAT Egypt trip leader, Dina, was vivacious, scholarly and enthusiastic about sharing her country. She added extra opportunities, such as our trying a water pipe in a local coffee shop, and always encouraged us to share our personal discoveries, such as my meeting the Coptic Pope, so she could help us understand what we had witnessed and how it fit into the contemporary culture. Dina’s tip was the maximum suggested.

In September 2006, our OAT Peru trip leader was burned out. Although he arranged the minimum experiences as outlined in the itinerary, he had little enthusiasm and even stated how he discouraged others from becoming trip leaders. His tip was below the minimum suggested.

Wanda Bahde

Summerfield, FL

I wish everyone would view “tips” as intending to reward service. I strongly believe they should not be included in the base price! Unfortunately, many cruise companies do this now, and I can’t help but believe that the lack of incentive which would be provided by direct (included) tipping has had something to do with the deterioration in service we have found in our recent cruises.

We began overseas travel in the 1970s. Since then, we have visited over 60 countries. During the last 15 years I have traveled outside the U.S. four or five times a year, nearly all of this travel being with tour companies or on cruise ships. I’ve used nearly a dozen different tour companies (not counting cruise lines), mostly Grand Circle Travel, or GCT (Boston, MA; 800/248-3737,

I’ve found that GCT’s tour directors and the local guides they use are usually top-grade, for what I seek. This is extremely important to me. On how much to tip, the literature for one of GCT’s tours gives recommendations and then states, “The amounts are based on what past travelers have done. The choice of what to tip is entirely optional.”

On two occasions over many years of travel, I’ve found it quite appropriate to not tip at all. In these cases I’ve given a note presenting why I was unhappy with the service. Conversely, a few times I have given much more than the recommended amount when extraordinary service was provided. I let the circumstances be my guide.

Glenn B. Sawyer

Carmichael, CA

We traveled on four Rick Steves’ Europe Through the Back Door (Edmonds, WA; 425/771-8303, www. tours from the years 1998 through 2004. These tours covered France, Ireland, Germany, Switzerland, Austria and Italy. A policy of that company is that their guides and drivers are paid well enough and there is to be no tipping. This policy is articulated to the customers.

On all of our tours, to our knowledge, everyone abided by this policy. On one of the tours, everyone did pitch in to purchase a token gift for our guide(s), but this was voluntary and amounted to a couple of dollars per person.

These tours ranged from two weeks to three weeks in length. On occasion, there were local guides employed as part of the tour, and the same no-tipping policy applied to them.

We are signed up to go on an Overseas Adventure Travel tour to China. We were shocked when we received the tour booklet and saw the tipping recommendations. Interestingly, the amounts are the same as those for an OAT tour to New Zealand, according to friends of ours who are taking a tour there, yet between these two destinations there is a significant difference in the local costs of living for local guides. (The recommendations are the same as those cited by Richard E. Smith for his OAT Central America tour.)

GCT may claim they’re just being “fair” because it is an incentive for good guides, etc., but we find it interesting that on all of our Rick Steves tours they managed to do without this practice and yet we had excellent guides, most of whom had had long tenures with the company.

Our view is that a tipping policy like this is simply a hidden cost of the tour. Instead, the guides should be fairly compensated by the tour company. Customer satisfaction surveys can easily form the basis for compensation bonuses and/or retention of each guide.

Russ Crum

Canton, MI

Richard Smith’s question came just as we returned from an Overseas Adventure Travel tour of New Zealand, so we could really relate to his situation description. What struck me as interesting was that the tip recommendations OAT gave him for Central America were exactly the same as what they gave for New Zealand, and that doesn’t seem logical, given the economies of the two different areas.

We’ve taken two tours over the years, both with OAT, and I confess to an extremely high level of angst and frustration with tipping on a tour. Indeed, the tips we felt obligated to give during these trips as well as at the end of each cost more than the optional tours and the “on-our-own meals.” That really affected our travel budget.

One thing I learned from the New Zealand trip was that OAT had hired “contract” guides. They weren’t employees of OAT, in the sense of receiving a regular paycheck; whatever the fee paid to the main guide, it was a negotiated contract, thus the “tip” given by each traveler at the end was the extra, which made it a profitable endeavor for the guide.

I personally would prefer the tour companies include any appropriate “tips” as part of their compensation to the guides and drivers, making that part of the total cost of the tour. The negative of this procedure is this: how do you make certain it actually goes to the individuals and doesn’t get siphoned off by either the tour company or some middleman contractor?

So, in the end, we need some consistent guide by country, rather than some determination by a tour company. (I’d like to feel confident that OAT makes its recommendations consistent with other companies for each country.)

Marion Durham

Tempe, AZ

The issue of tip amounts is a good one, especially as Mr. Smith related it to Overseas Adventure Travel.

We have traveled with OAT three times. On our first trip, to Turkey (1998), we thought their tipping recommendations seemed reasonable, based on the roles of the leader versus the drivers and the local economy. Our group had a number of business people who raised questions about typical earnings, housing costs, etc., so we could make a judgment about the fit.

However, we got suspicious when we received identical tipping guidelines for Botswana (1999). On a safari, the driver is everything. He has to know unmarked routes, know how to track animals and know how to approach them. He’s the key to a successful safari. The lodge operators, too, have significant impact on your comfort and your enjoyment of the surroundings. The OAT trip leader in Africa, however, on our trip was a mere administrator who traveled with us from place to place for continuity. To have the same tipping guidelines for leaders versus drivers there, compared to those in Turkey, was absurd.

On our extension in Cape Town, one of the local guides commented that the OAT tipping policy was way out of line and actually spoiled things for other tours by setting unrealistic expectations on the part of the service providers there.

When we have traveled with groups from mixed countries, we have found that European ideas about appropriate tip amounts are considerably lower than ones we have seen “suggested” by American tour operators. In the end, it’s the traveler’s personal judgment as to whether tipping is necessary and how much to give.

I have talked with a number of excellent guides who expected no tip at all, so even a modest show of appreciation caused delight. Rather than just a hidden tour cost, that’s what tipping really should be all about: recognizing someone who has gone above and beyond to make your experience special.

Donna Pyle

Boulder, CO

My husband and I take two trips each year with OAT and/or GCT. We have traveled with OAT to Vietnam (December ’06) and Costa Rica (December ’05 and December ’04) and with GCT to South America (March ’06), Italy (May ’05) and Australia (December ’03).

We do not tip according to OAT/GCT guidelines, which we consider too high. We each tip the guide $3 per day, the driver $1 per day and local guides $2 per day.

Lauren Maslin

Tucson, AZ

Mr. Smith is right on with this topic. While he has been traveling with OAT, I have done seven tours with GCT, and tipping has been a sore spot with me on each and every tour.

I feel all tipping should be included in the tour price. Personally, I feel very embarrassed tipping. I’m always afraid that I am undertipping, which I doubt; no doubt I’m more prone to overtip, as I always do the single-supplement options.

As Mr. Smith pointed out, there can be some real cheapskates within each group. In fact, a major number of travelers with GCT may be on the cheaper side of the curve. I am embarrassed at how their acts may reflect on Americans in general.

Bottom line — I would definitely prefer that all tipping be included in the tour package. No doubt this would depend on the country visited, as the economics should be a major consideration. Who knows about the local, regional and national economics better than the tour companies?

Ronald H. Malloney

Cathedral City, CA

Tipping is a conundrum on nearly every trip we take. On our last trip, guests had been together for a day and the topic of tipping had already been brought up. Our trip literature addressed the tipping of one main guide but not an assistant guide or driver. Clearly, some of our travel mates were not prepared for the possibility of this extra payment, and due to where we were traveling there was no easy way to acquire extra currency (no ATMs).

As frequent group travelers (three to four tours yearly), we would prefer that the tour company include an appropriate amount to tip the guides in our trip cost and itemize this cost in our invoicing. The following are our reasons:

1. The amounts to tip a guide, assistant guide and driver vary from country to country based on the economy and culture. The tour company has a better idea of the correct amounts to tip than their guests, since most of them are probably first-time visitors to the country.

2. Collecting the tips in advance decreases the amount of money each guest needs to securely carry throughout the trip.

3. Each guest would contribute the same amount to the fund for tipping. On every trip we’ve taken, someone usually suggests tipping a small amount or forgoes tipping altogether. This is unfair to the guides as well as other trip members.

4. Since tips seem to be universally expected while on tour, it seems simpler and clearer to include this fee in the cost of the trip.

5. Almost all of the companies fail to include the tipping “fee” in the promotional literature and often only mention in the final literature what for a long trip can be a large amount. (Tips of $10 per person times two people is $20 per day times 17 days equals $340.)

This literature often arrives 10 days to two weeks prior to departure, which forces travelers to dash off to the bank. And do you pay in U.S. currency or the local currency?

6. It also seems a bit deceptive to wait until the last bit of departure information arrives to mention that tipping is expected. On our first trips, we were most startled by this expense and had not budgeted well for this cost. The companies should include the tip in the invoice just as they do the in-country airfare, park fees, departure taxes and other miscellaneous expenses.

The only time that including the tip in the trip cost doesn’t seem fair is when a guide or driver fails to perform his or her duties in an exemplary fashion. Throughout our travels, we have had two guides fail miserably and we did not tip them the recommended amount. In these instances, if the tip had been prepaid we would have expressed our concerns about the guide to the tour company and possibly looked for compensation.

Our daughter and her friends worked as guides in the Alaska market. They received about $5 per hour while at work and relied on tips to survive the high costs of summer living in Alaska. Based on stories our daughter shared, the guides often received very low or no tips. This happened because the tour company did not inform its guests that these young people worked for tips. It would have been far better for the company to value its guides and pay them properly; the guests would have received better service.

We often have wondered if this same philosophy is implemented in foreign travel. As guests, we have no idea if the people who guide us have been paid a fair wage or if they only earn their income from our tips. It would be helpful to learn how tour companies compensate their guides and drivers.

At this time, we generally pay in the mid-range of the amount our tour company suggests to tip. It’s always a nuisance to carry the extra cash throughout the trip, but there is no option when travelers are expected to tip at the end of the trip. It would be most helpful to include the tip in the cost of the trip and travel worry-free knowing that the people who guide and help us have been compensated appropriately.

Barbara Lister

Estes Park, CO

I am very glad to have an opportunity to contribute my ideas about tipping tour personnel.

I have to admit that I do not like tipping of any kind. In my mind, it is akin to baksheesh or a small bribe. When tipping becomes too widespread, it may turn into something like what was explained to me in Vietnam: a mother complained that she was unable to tip her child’s teacher very much and she expected that her child would, therefore, have a hard time.

I think an economy works most efficiently when a deal can be made for a specific service at a stated price. Americans seem most prone to tipping, while people of other nationalities do not. Australians think all our tipping is foolish. That aside, we are stuck with the practice.

It would be best if a tour operator would tell a prospective customer what the cost of the tour will be and what services will be provided. If they need their customers to pay for part of the salaries of those who work for them, they should state it “up front.” It would be acceptable if they said that a “local payment” of some sum would be required of each tourist and it would be used by the tour leader to handle the tips of all drivers and local guides.

The tour company should state a certain sum that is the minimum expected tip for each person to pay the tour leader. This should be calculated by them to be the minimum amount required to get a person with the skills needed for a tour leader. This way, tourists could compare tour prices and would not feel uncomfortable with their tipping decisions. If the standard good service is provided by the tour leader as contracted, the customers should not feel guilty, and if a tour leader TRULY goes above or beyond the level of service deserved by the customers, they can always decide to give a small additional tip. I feel sure that this change will not be made, however, and we tourists will still need to decide on our own what to do.

There are a number of things that a tourist needs to consider before he/she decides on a tip.

TOUR COST — If it is a very expensive tour, a tourist has every right to expect outstanding service. Therefore, if he/she gets outstanding service, it is what is being paid for and no extra reward is due for that standard service. If there is an outstanding leader with a moderately priced tour, he or she deserves a tip.


Most of us have been on tours where certain individuals require a lot of personal help and attention. I think the tour leader is primarily there to make sure that the tour as a whole goes as planned. Special services and attention should definitely be paid for by those who need the special individual attention. Those who simply go with the group activities and require no special attention need pay only the standard basic tip.

ANNUAL INCOME — The tips given to a driver in Cuba (average annual income, $2,870), Mali ($1,240) and Norway ($38,450) are substantially different from each other.

In Cuba the tips are comparatively so large that it actually corrupts the economy. I met a college professor there who drove tourist buses. If everyone tipped $1 per day and there were 30 people, it would mean $420 per two weeks. That is $10,920 per year. And we complain about the corporate executives in the USA! For a local guide, tips of $3 per person per day would be annualized at $32,760.

WHAT PART OF COMPENSATION SHOULD BE INCENTIVE? — Probably, the tour company is the best one to answer this question. My guess is about 5%.

Incentive pay is above the standard basic tip that the tour company needs to maintain the employment of their tour leaders. If a tour leader’s annualized compensation is to be $30,000-$40,000, a 2-week “incentive tip” maximum should be about $2 to $3 per person over two weeks (with 30 people on the tour). Remember that the remainder of the tip is the basic tip and is probably a lot more.

Some may remind us that tour leaders, guides and drivers do not work every day and that our tips need to cover their off-times too. I am not sure that is fair, since they probably have other jobs at other times of the year, but it is a point.

John S.


I feel that the tipping amounts in OAT’s guidelines are far too high. If everyone on a typical 14-day tour with 14 people were to tip $7 per day, the trip leader would earn $34,300 per year working an average of 50 weeks. Of course, he or she would not be working with OAT all of the time, but I’ve gathered that guides typically keep themselves employed with other companies.

This amount is far above the GDP per head of Chile, which the website for The Economist ( lists as having been $8,875 for 2006 compared to $44,244 in the U.S.

Yvonne Chen

Markleeville, CA

I have taken five tours with Trafalgar and one with a small tour company and I’m leaving in four days for my second trip with Overseas Adventure Travel, this time to Costa Rica. I have some definite views on tipping.

First, I understand why we tip. However, I think the tour operators greatly inflate what they would like us to tip their guides and others involved with the day-to-day operations of the tour. What they would like us to do is subsidize their tours and reduce their costs.

For my April Costa Rica tour, OAT recommends we tip in U.S. dollars rather than the local currency. This is outrageous. At this time, one Costa Rican colon is equal to about $0.0019.

The suggested tip for a local driver is $4 a day. Multiply that by the 15 people on the tour and a driver would be getting $60 a day — a whale of a payday for most Costa Ricans. If all 15 of us paid our tour director the top figure of $10, he would get $150 per day.

Also, I choose to pay the single supplement, which I feel is the biggest scam in the travel industry. I do not wish to share a room with someone I just met, and the companies stick it to you for that privilege. Often, I am shoehorned into a single room even though I am paying a single supplement.

On my OAT tour of Australia in May-June ’06, the single supplement cost me about $56 per day. The accommodations were excellent, but several times couples had rooms that had more amenities than my room had, like washers and dryers. I am not going to pay for extras I don’t get and still be a big tipper.

Dan Henige

Ontario, OH

My cousin and I spent nearly a month in Australia in August ’06. Most of the daily tours we took were out of Perth on buses on which the driver was also our tour guide.

On blogs and in magazine articles I have read regarding what is customary in Australia, it is generally mentioned that tipping is not necessary. When we inquired about tipping our driver, the Aussies were adamant that we not tip, with some telling us they did not want “Yanks” starting a custom they thought unnecessary, since all workers were paid a “living wage.”

I walk with a cane and sometimes slow the group down, and I found the drivers especially courteous and helpful. My cousin and I each tried to tip Aus$5 (about US$2.70) without drawing the attention of our travel companions. I often told the drivers that their interesting commentary and extra help were appreciated. Sometimes, I would buy the driver a beverage or share a treat. We always left small tips for our meals when the bills did not include the gratuity.

I have a strong feeling about tipping anywhere in the world, and more so in third-world countries, if the service is more than basic or rude. Some of us are so fortunate to be able to travel far from our homes to see this beautiful planet.

On cruises, a general total minimum per traveler for the entire trip should be mentioned in the cruise brochures and collected with the final payment before departure. It would be helpful if the shore tours were listed and the approximate costs included tips.

For trips such as those from Overseas Adventure Travel, the tipping amount should be mentioned as a suggested minimum amount in the brochure and added to the tour price, paid before one leaves home. I dislike the idea of having to scrounge about in my foreign money or look for a place to exchange money for the proper amount and hope a large bill is not my only choice. The pace of some tours leaves little free time to exchange money or look for a place to do so, if such a place even exists in a remote area.

The purpose of travel is to enjoy, and knowing the tipping amount was paid up front helps me relax. Or at the beginning of a tour, the suggested tips for guides and drivers could be talked about so people could secure the needed funds in advance of traveling out of a main city.

Of course, there are cheapskates in any group. Then, again, I read somewhere that airline passengers have tipped cabin stewards who have been especially helpful.

I had a tour guide in Germany who told our group that he was rather new to the job and needed tips to help with his schooling. He was so jovial about it, most of us complied, even though he was not very well trained in what we were seeing nor taking extra steps to assist us.

What really would be nice, in a perfect world, is having tips be unnecessary. Everyone in a service position would be paid sufficiently and gladly do their jobs and we could thank them and it would be enough. And we would not be ugly Americans who bring on poor service by our rudeness or ignorance.

Denise Doporto

Sacramento, CA

My husband and I took an Overseas Adventure Travel tour of Classical Greece and the Greek Islands, March 30-April 20, 2007. We had a wonderful, knowledgeable, compassionate and enthusiastic tour director, Alex Christofidis. There were only 18 people in our group.

The suggested tipping schedule that we received just before our trip suggested higher amounts than those in the schedule sent to us earlier. At first, it seemed too high, but we felt the smaller-size group was worth more, as you get more individual attention and do not spend your time waiting for others in the group.

The tour directors and guides are independent contractors. If you tipped the same for each size of group, the contractors of small groups would make at least 50% less than if they contracted for a larger group. Eventually, small groups would not be able to obtain the best guides.

Charlotte Cherry

Chelsea, AL