Guida or Accompagnatore?
Italian law distinguishes between the two professional roles of tour guide – Guida Turistica – and tour leader – Accompagnatore Turistico. So what’s the difference?
A tour guide specialises in the history, art, and architecture of a particular province (e.g. Florence, Siena, Livorno) and has passed tough exams which test in-depth knowledge of that province (a guida specialising in one province, e.g. Florence, cannot work as a guide in, say, Livorno province, unless they have taken additional exams for that province).The tour guide is the person you see imparting all his/her knowledge in front of famous buildings and works of art to groups of visitors. Often these guides have studied the history of art at university, prior to taking exams to become a guide.
Sometimes a guida will also cover the role of accompagnatore.
A tour leader has a more practical role and deals with the organisation of a tour, whether this is for one or more days. He or she may also be involved in the planning of tours. If you are on an organised shore excursion from the Port of Livorno, the person who escorts you on the bus, gives commentary on the way, arranges meeting times and places, coordinates with museums, restaurants, and driver, as well as with tour guides, is the accompagnatore or tour leader. He or she will usually have very good general knowledge of the local area, particularly from a cultural point of view. A tour leader’s license is not confined to one province, but to a whole region (e.g. Tuscany). Typically, on a shore excursion, you will meet a local guida in the place you are going to visit.
Another kind of tour guide, the guida ambientale – or ecotour guide – is concerned with leading tours that highlight an area’s natural characteristics – natural parks, mountain walks, hiking, plants and flowers, geological features, etc. Of course, these areas overlap with cultural, historical and artistic aspects as well.
So which is the right guide for you?
If you are interested in gaining an in-depth insight into the art and history of a city or area, you need a licensed guida turistica. If your interest is more general and you only need someone to show you around, coordinate your tour, and help with practicalities, then an accompagnatore will probably be sufficient. If you are interested in an area’s nature, then clearly you will be better off with a guida ambientale.
Needless to say, rates for tour guides are significantly higher than those for tour leaders.