In New Orleans, tour guides must be licensed, and that includes taking a test and passing it, passing a background check, and a drug test. We have to renew our license and our background check every 2 years. With that process completed, the city feels that the New Orleans tour guides are trained and ready to be ambassadors to our city. It is not enough.
To be a good ambassador for New Orleans, or any city, requires knowledge beyond a test and abilities beyond the process of getting the license.
It requires an ability to handle difficult people, a moral compass for telling the truth, and, most importantly, professionalism. Representing a city means representing the best of that city. Tour guides should be an example. We are the voices of the city to tourists and we are the people who send tourists home with knowledge and memories of our home. Those tourists are the ones giving feedback to others who may or may not visit in the future.
In some cities, such as New York City, guides are held responsible for the stories they tell. That includes haunted tour guides. The history must be told correctly.
In New Orleans, it is a challenge to be a guide due to noise, crowds, drunken tourists, and more. So it takes special people to be fantastic guides. It also takes good companies to hold their tour guides accountable and to hold themselves accountable to the city rules, history and to further the future of the city as well.
Recently, during a nighttime ghost/cemetery tour, there were 10 buses there at the same time. Buses were all full and all buses unloaded at the cemetery. It was chaos.
Did those tourists get the best tour for their money or did the tour companies make the most money at the cost of the tourists’ time? Maybe both.
There are many of us as seasoned tour guides who pick and choose which tours we do and we are picky as to who we work for.
For example, I prefer to give tours with smaller groups than the 28 max that the city allows us. I prefer to only work for companies that don’t sugarcoat the history and don’t make up the history. I won’t work for a company that doesn’t align with what I believe in and I won’t work for a company that isn’t first and foremost considerate of the guests, the city, and the guides. I’ve got over 300 years of family history here and I want my position as a tour guide to uplift the city and help its future.
While that’s just me, it gives you an example.
Once the guides are licensed then it is up to them to keep their stories factual and to continue to research and learn. It’s up to the individual guides to be good representatives of the city.
There are many tour guides that do the right thing. But there are those that go rogue and do whatever they can get away with while on tour.
The bottom line is, that not all guides are created equal and the same applies for tour companies.
With that said, the amount of great tour guides we have in New Orleans is amazing.
One group of them meet late on Sunday nights to have time together and plan fundraising. Another group meets and does a monthly book club and the books are all about history. Another group meets and calls it a scavenger find. It’s where they have taken the month to find proven history and facts about things on their tours they didn’t already know. They share those facts and all improve. The list goes on.
We have tour guides who work multiple states, multiple countries. We have tour guides who happen past another tour and say to that guides guests what an incredible tour guide they have and how lucky they are. That guide just secured great tips for the other guide.
Is this a competitive business? Yes it is. A highly competitive field. So much so that journalist Chris Rose wrote in the Times Picayune about the “Tour Wars”. That was a time when being a tour company owner was like being involved in the mafia. It makes for an interesting find on google.
It can be a petty business to be in. It can be a narcissistic field. It can also be the most fulfilling type of work there is.
Just remember though, like with everything in life, not all guides and not all companies are equal. But when they are good, they are remarkable!