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Tourism Commission, February 27

Unusual but perhaps laudable conduct of meetings
Licensing of tour guides defended
Warwick Jones

We have not regularly covered meetings of the City’s Tourism Commission. Considering the importance of tourism to the City economy and its potential to disrupt the lives of its citizens, we plan to attend all future meetings.

Because of our interest in the horse carriage industry and our concern for horses and passengers, we attended the last two meetings of the Commission. In one aspect at least, these meetings were unusual. Like all meetings of the City’s Boards and Commissions, there is an agenda and scope for public participation. This is true also for the Tourist Commission. But whereas public participation is confined in other meetings, the confinement is token at best for the Tourist Commission. At yesterday’s meeting, about an hour was spent discussing a question from a member of the public (a representative from the Carriage industry). The subsequent discussion involved not only Commissioners but other members of the public. Another question was asked on safety of the carriage wagons and this too was discussed by the Commission with input from other members of the public.

We confess to annoyance that the process took so long and that so many of the questions could have been addressed by staff and the answers given at the next Commission meeting. But at the same time, we have to concede that the meeting gave everybody an opportunity to voice an opinion. And although efficiency and time were sacrificed, it ensured that all issues were fully discussed and aired. So we will remain silent on the manner the Commission conducts its business. But we hope that the vacant seats on the Commission are filled shortly. The last two meetings began 20 minutes late because of a lack of quorum of Commissioners. None of us enjoy waiting around for any meeting to begin, particularly when it related to the tardiness of Commission members.

More exams for temporary tour guides?
Most of the matters discussed at yesterday’s meeting were administrative or minor. The question from a member of the public that provoked an hour’s discussion was whether the City could hold more examinations to license temporary tour guides. The carriage trade was about to enter the tourist season and there was a potential shortage of tour guides. A considerable number of people were waiting to take the test, he said.

On the face of it, the question seemed reasonable. But Clerk of City Council, Vanessa Turner Maybank who sits on the Commission, clearly didn’t think so. With some evident irritation, she noted that the temporary license had been introduced to help the carriage industry over short term hiring difficulties. It was not designed to replace the full tour guide license. But it was clear, as staff also subsequently pointed out, the tour guides were taking advantage of the system.

The temporary guide exam, which we presume is relatively simple, allows the recipient to work as a tour guide but to work only from a script when giving a tour. The issuance of the temporary license is made on the condition that the recipient sits for the full Tour Guide test when next given. But as the Tour Guide test is given only 4 times a year, this means that as much as 3 months elapses before a recipient of a temporary license has to suffer the ordeal of a full test. And this is a long enough period for some folk seeking temporary employment to work in the industry. They work 3 months and then quit. Staff noted that there is always a host of applications for a temporary license immediately after a full Tour Guide test is given. Apparently there are about 25 or more persons presently seeking a temporary license and are clamoring to take the appropriate test. And these are the people the carriage operator was asking the City to test.

Facilities limited
Staff also noted that it does not have the facilities to handle such numbers with ease. The 2 hour test for temporary guides needs to be supervised and the Commission staff has to work the tests into periods where normal duties are unaffected. There is no ordinance that addresses these temporary license tests. However, the Commission allows carriage operators to have a tour guide complement comprising up to half temporary license holders. It also prohibits the renewal of a temporary license, or the application for another.

Increase tests for full time guides to 5 times a year
There was a lot more discussed and it seems the tentative conclusion was to increase tests for Tour Guides to 5 times a year. The extra test period would be sometime in February or March just before the Tourist season got under way. But the matter was to go back to staff for fuller consideration and to be subsequently brought back to the Commission.

No big tour buses for Rutledge and Ashley Avenues
Commissioner Mendelsohn was indignant to learn that big tour buses were not supposed to be using Rutledge and Ashley Avenues north of Calhoun streets. The decision was made by the City back in 2006 and apparently this was shown on the maps distributed by the City to the Tour Association. Ms Turner Maybank expressed surprise that Commissioner Mendelsohn was not aware of the restraint. She noted that the request had been made by neighborhood associations and the City Council member for the district. They were particularly concerned about the number of school children that used the sidewalks and crossed the avenues. The Commission asked staff to look into the matter again.

Some other matters, for amusement rather than importance were:

• Rickshaws are not allowed to deliver fast food in residential areas unless there is also a passenger.
• No alcoholic beverages are allowed to be consumed in carriages. This includes carriages conducting bridal couples and related parties.
• The public toilet facilities for the below-Broad area are sparse. The lower floor of City Hall is the last “pit stop” for those venturing below-Broad. Don’t rely on being allowed to use the facilities of the Hazel Parker Playground. Tour guides should warn tourists of the dearth of facilities before tours. Commissioner Gary White said that he was discussing the provision of more facilities, presumably at White Point Gardens with Parks and Recreation. We suspect the locals will have something to say!

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