Should Tour Guides Be Licensed?
The owners of a Segway tour operator in Washington D.C. sued the city last week in federal court to protest a requirement that their tours guides be licensed, arguing that the city’s new regulations infringe upon their right to free speech. The company claims that the District shouldn’t designate who can and can’t talk about the city, while the city argues that the regulations set standards for what a visitor can expect from a guide. The case was brought by the libertarian-leaning Institute for Justice, which also challenged Philadelphia’s tour guide requirements in a case that’s still pending in the city’s courts.
D.C.’s Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs passed its new tour guide regulations in July, which require that each guide go through a certification process that involves a 100-question test on general factual information about the city’s history, architecture, government, landmarks, monuments, etc. The test, plus the license and registration fees, amount to $200. The District has had tour guide requirements on the books for years, but by most accounts they were confusing and weren’t upheld; these new rules aimed to streamline and formalize the process.
Right now it seems that, like everything else in Washington, the arguments over the tour guide issue fall into a few different camps. There are the Segway operators named in the lawsuit, who feel their First Amendment rights are being threatened. Matthew Yglesias over at the Think Progress blog thinks that it’s more oversight than necessary — that it does a disservice to guides who want to focus on a general area of the city yet who have to study the District’s complete history.
Tim Krepp, a guide who blogs at DC Like a Local
isn’t altogether upset with the suit — he’s taken the test and he’s licensed himself. He thinks that the test itself could be much better, and that the city could do a more thorough job of actually checking in on the registrations once people have taken the test. With little oversight, the value of the licenses means little, he argues.
The Guild of Professional Tour Guides of Washington, D.C.
promotes the registration and accepts licensed guides as members. But in addition to the test, they make sure that everyone goes through a three-day professional development training program upon joining the guild.
They also consider continuing education an integral part of the job, an offer a Certified Master Guide program for those who have been on the job for 5-7 years.
I for one feel a bit more confident knowing that a tour operator has done their due diligence and gone through the licensing process. It seems to me to be a commitment to their chosen line of work. But I also see the flip side: I’m a journalist and didn’t have to take a licensing exam, and I’m in the business of sharing information as well (though honestly, I went to grad school and got a fair share of training — at a hefty cost — for that privilege).
- Nat Geo Expeditions
What do you think? Do you feel more confident knowing that your guide has been licensed?
[DC Like a Local]
[YouTube: License to Describe]
[DC Government’s Tour Guide License page]
Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images