Get to Know Barcelona tour guide Ingeborg Koedijk: From the Netherlands to the heart of Spain

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Knowledge and enthusiasm are essential skills in the guiding biz, but passion is what makes the best tour guides shine. That passion is what landed Ingeborg Koedijk a gig as a tour guide in Barcelona back in 2010 and inspired her to set up her own guiding company, Tomato & Bread a year later. Originally from the Netherlands, Ingeborg was first introduced to the Spanish way of life in 2009 and she has never looked back. Culture and history are right up her alley, and she loves nothing more than to share Barcelona’s quirks with travelers from across the globe. We caught up with Ingeborg between tours to find out where her journey began.

Hi Ingeborg, thanks for giving us a sneak peek into your life as a tour guide. First of all, how did you find yourself in the guiding business?

When I first moved to Barcelona I didn’t know much about the city, so I started a blog to try and get to know it better. The blog really took off and after a while it started to receive quite a lot of traffic. I realized that I wasn’t alone in my adventure and at that point I decided to become a tour guide. Over time I became well acquainted with Barcelona and I developed a wide range of knowledge that allowed me to start my own company. I now show people around the city in my own personal way, and I help them to enjoy the city in the same way I do.

Was it tough trying to get up to speed with all of Barcelona’s quirks as an outsider?

In the beginning I read a lot of books and visited all the main tourist hot spots in town. It took quite some time to take everything in, simply because there is so much to see in Barcelona. It was a long process, that’s for sure! Once I knew the basics, I started working as a tour guide for another company in town which taught me the basics and how to treat visitors. About 18 months later, I set up my own company which allowed me to run tours the way I like them.

Was it difficult to go out on your own and set up your own tour company?

In the beginning the Spanish government helped out with some nice incentives and I had everything taken care of by a bookkeeping company, so it wasn’t difficult to get started. Actually it was surprisingly easy compared to most bureaucratic processes in Spain. Right now the company is an independent outfit with freelance guides, which is sufficient for now.

Each tour is unique in its own way, but my greatest triumphs are when I receive positive reviews from customers. I feel proud when visitors take the time to review the tour and provide their feedback. It makes me feel that what I’m doing is really worthwhile.

What does a day in the life of Ingeborg Koedijk look like?

Generally I start the day by addressing my emails, organizing upcoming trips and overseeing all of the planning for guides & visitors. Then, depending on the day, I take 1-2 tours which are usually a combination of bicycle and walking tours. The first tour usually starts at around 10:30am and the second at around 3:00pm. Afterwards, I usually do another round of ‘management’ and take care of the finances, emails and planning for newly requested tours.

How do you connect with your customers? Have you developed a certain style of guiding over the years?

I don’t really have a style; I just try to be myself. I focus on making visitors feel welcome and I try to make sure that they really enjoy it.

What is the most memorable tour you’ve led?

I’ve led a few tours where I have had a great connection with the visitors, and they make me feel like family. The latest memorable tour was with a lady who had a debilitating disease and brought her support dog along on the tour. Her husband arranged a walking tour as a surprise for her birthday, and it turned out to be great! I extended the tour for an hour because they were so nice and we had such a great connection. They were a very unique couple who really touched me. Actually, we are still in touch.

What would you consider to be your greatest career highlight?

Each tour is unique in its own way, but my greatest triumphs are when I receive positive reviews from customers. I feel proud when visitors take the time to review the tour and provide their feedback. It makes me feel that what I’m doing is really worthwhile.

Ingeborg's favorite place to take visitors is the Museum Frederic Mares in Barcelona
Ingeborg's favorite place to take visitors is the Museum Frederic Mares in Barcelona
As an experienced guide yourself, are there any questions that travelers should ask their guide before they go on a tour?

If you’ve been to the city before, always ask where you’re going to prevent duplicating your visit. Of course this depends on the type of tour, as you won’t have as much flexibility if you are traveling with a group. Besides that, always ask the guide for travel tips and have him or her place everything on a map. They know the city very well, and any tips on things which are outside the regular tourist traps are worth gold!

In your view, what does it take to make a good tour great ?

A great mood, an itinerary that avoids the tourist traps and, of course, sunshine!

And finally, if you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go?

There are way too many options to choose from, especially when there are so many beautiful things to see. But my main destination of choice would be Australia. Every time I look at pictures or videos, it looks amazing! The Great Barrier Reef, the desert, the nature and the cities – it all looks great!

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