LeAnn Ogilvie spent 25 years working in information technology. “I found out I was good at problem-solving and figuring things out,” she said. After she learned her way around personal computers, a company hired her to set up a local-area network (LAN) — a new concept at the time.
After a few years, she went into business for herself. “I was a ‘traveling help desk’ for several small businesses. I enjoyed that for 20-some years,” she said. The job ceased to be enjoyable when “IT became security,” she said. “I was a cybercop. I didn’t enjoy that part of the job at all.”
Meanwhile, Ogilvie had been fostering a love of travel that began in childhood. “In my own business, I took three weeks off every three years — traveling on my own and on tours. I love to research. It’s a natural thing to me to study the history, culture and music. I can really immerse myself,” she said. Tour directors she traveled with told her she’d be good in the role.
When she decided it was time to change careers, Ogilvie took the certification course at the International Guide Academy (IGA), graduating at the top of her class in 2013. She’s now in her second full year as a tour guide, although the industry counts the certification course as the equivalent of a season of work experience.
To date, she’s handled a combination of student choir and band tours and adult tours to the Southwest and Southeast. “I haven’t done international tour managing yet. That’s one of my goals,” she said.
How do you get work once you’re certified?
The IGA provides you with a list of a couple hundred tour operators that have hired their graduates and they have good relationships with. You go through the list, send a résumé and cover letter and do follow-up calls. I contacted about 30 tour companies. I applied to some big companies and never heard back. With smaller companies, you often get to talk to the president.
What is a typical workday?
There is none. As soon as I get the itinerary, I do research: Locations of restaurants and attractions. With student tours, there’s not a lot of narration. Adults expect some education out of it, to add flavor. I talk to the bus drivers in advance. I talk to group leaders to find out what they want to do. I put together paperwork. Once the trip is underway, I’m meeting clients and chaperones, making sure everything goes according to what was promised. There’s some paperwork on the road, but mostly it’s solving problems — weather, traffic. It’s the same as being a computer consultant. I love that — think outside the box, react, troubleshoot. At the end of the day, I go to my room, although I am on call 24 hours a day. I shut the door — I don’t even turn on the TV.
How does it compare to personal travel?
I still get to be there, and I get to help others fulfill their travel dreams. I had a tour with kids who never been out of Iowa. They had never seen buildings that big. On one tour I led last year, an 86-year-old woman went to the Grand Canyon for the first time. It was on her bucket list. It is so cool that I can be part of this. As I get more proficient, I can enjoy the travel more. But it’s not about me at this point. □