Guest Blogger “Fireproof”: An Insider’s View of the Tour Guide Licensing Controversy

© Charlotte Hamrick

Every day throughout our country, citizens discuss history and culture. They argue their viewpoints and opinions about history and the important events that have influenced our lives. Over coffee at cafés, in checkout lines at grocery stores, and in staff break rooms people talk about history.

No one inhibits this discourse. No one has to prove expertise to join discussions. People are simply exercising their First Amendment rights. No one dictates who may or may not share his or her views or stories. There is an exception to this freedom in some cities. Some city administrations have decided that there is group whose right to free speech should be constrained. In New Orleans, and five other cities, that group is tour guides.
The mayor of New Orleans has declared that strict regulations for a tour guide license are necessary to prevent tour guides form harming tourists. This viewpoint has led to fingerprinting, police records checks, drug tests, a knowledge test and residency requirements.
Mr. Mayor, support your opinion that tour guides may be a menace. Tell us how many tour guides have lost a license because of a felony conviction. How many have been rejected because they failed a police records check, or have been convicted of lesser charges such as purse snatching, public drunkenness, or battery of any kind? Show us the factual foundation for statements that are an insult to the tour guides of this city.
The city of New Orleans should stop regulating and licensing tour guides because:
Guides are not city employees; private companies hire them.
The city’s knowledge test of 100 questions is an inadequate tool for determining the knowledge or ability of an applicant to give tours.
There are a minimum of twenty-seven tour operatives, two nonprofit organizations, and one federal agency conducting walking tours once or twice a day. There are at least eight van companies, four bus companies, four carriage companies, three bike companies, a kayak company, and a Segway company conducting one or two tours a day.
The city lacks the personnel to consistently enforce its rules and regulations for these. Lack of enforcement breeds disregard and contempt for the law.
The city uses fingerprinting requirements to generate income. It requires guides to use a city agency at the airport for $50.00. This service is available for $19.00 – $20.00 at other sites in the metro area.
The concept of a “one stop shop for permitting and licensing” is a farce. Guides must go to the taxicab bureau for a photo, to a facility for a drug test, to the airport for fingerprinting. The new guide must go to still another site for a “knowledge” test.
The city contributes nothing to the training, competence, or knowledge base of tour guides.
Tour planners and tour operators employ guides. The success of their companies depends upon their ability to identify and train high performers who are knowledgeable, flexible, and personable. The income of their companies depends on the competence of their guides. Thus, tour guiding is a “self – cleaning oven.”
Tour guides do not have intimate contact with tourists. Anyone seeking intimate contact with tourists can explore licensing by the city as an escort. See the Municipal Code, Chapter 30, and Article 7: “Escort Services.”
In summary, the city is not an effective agency for testing, monitoring, or enhancing tour guide performance. The city’s regulations are a tariff on free speech.
Boston, Philadelphia, San Antonio, Las Vegas, and San Francisco, do not license or regulate tour guides. Six cities in the U.S. license and regulate tour guides. New Orleans is among the unfortunate six.
“Fireproof” is a New Orleanian who loves her town.

3 thoughts on “Guest Blogger “Fireproof”: An Insider’s View of the Tour Guide Licensing Controversy

  1. Dear Fireproof,
    Why are the small businesses, the collective cultural economic engine of our New Orleans subjected to such oppressive regulation? There are many more significant issues that the administration must concern itself with. I’d like an example of the last time a tourist was caused the least of harm by a tour guide. Landrieu is changing the face and sensience of our city. He is painting the face of our city the wrong shade of red. Landrieu’s refusal to allow transparency in his “leadership” of this city must be confronted directly. Enough of smoke and mirrors.

  2. I was talking to a tour guide who recently passed the history test. He is on pain medication every day for a chronic medical problem. He said that after he failed the drug test (which he had told the administrator he would), he had to pay to present documentation of his medical condition and use of prescription medicine to the licensing bureau. This amounted to doubling the cost of licensure for an individual who should be protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act. Way to go, New Orleans. Make it hard for people to find what few jobs there are left.

    • “The city uses fingerprinting requirements to generate income. It requires guides to use a city agency at the airport for $50.00. This service is available for $19.00 – $20.00 at other sites in the metro area. The concept of a “one stop shop for permitting and licensing” is a farce.” quoting the author.

      Excellent point arielleschecter, adding descrimination violations to the list of insults to those who know New Orleans and wish to represent her history in the tourism industry.

      I recently read about Mayor Landrieu collapsing multiple agencies charged with the important responsibility of overseeing the preservation of the history of our city. WHILE moving the collapsed offices of those charged with historical preservation OUT of the French Quarter. The city’s business IS preservation in support of New Orleans as like no other place on earth, and in support of culture and industry related to her unique qualities.

      Landrieu was once a champion of historical preservation; being elected Mayor seems to have changed his priorities. I understand Landrieu hired a business oriented person to sit in on all of the various preservation agency board meetings prior to the process of making this decision.

      The result, a corporate view on cultural issues resulting in the decision that none of our preservation organizations are so important as to continue to stand separately and practice their discreet and honed expertise in all of the aspects of history and culture. Just what New Orleans needs, a corporate hack in the halls of our hallowed historic preservation halls. One who would symbolically and literally shove those in the business of preserving New Orleans aside.

      Landrieu is no longer in the business of preserving New Orleans. New Orleans is being exploited for Landrieu’s business interests.

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