Testing the tour guides

April 3, 2008 4:05:54 PM PDT
It's only a test, but it's about to determine just who's qualified to lead tours around Philadelphia's historical sites.By the end of this year, roughly 200 Philadelphia tour guides will be required to pass a standardized history test to get certification to keep their jobs.

The test will be administered by the city. The new law passed unanimously in city council today. A sponsor says this is in response to steady complaints from tourists about tour guides who dispense horrendous misinformation.

"How about a tour guide saying the guy who sits on top City Hall is Benjamin Franklin? Abraham Lincoln and George Washington had lunch together has [also] been shared with visitors to our city by a tour guide," Blondell Reynodls-Brown (D) of the Philadelphia City Council said.

One of the city's oldest and largest tour companies says they demand quality from their guides already.

"We believe you simply can't legislate quality and, ultimately, it's up to each company's responsibility to supply a historically accurate, quality tour," Bobby Andrews of Philadelphia Trolleyworks said.

Tourists who spoke to Action News said they were all pleased with their bus tours.

The reaction to the testing program from veteran tour guides who specialize in Philadelphia's old, historic section varied.

"I think pretty much anyone whose worked here for any amount of time will probably be able to pass that test and I had to take a similar test when I was working in Washington, D.C.," tour guide Aaron Zegas said.

"For me, giving history, certainly, and being accurate with Benjamin Franklin and George Washington, certainly, but I also like to have fun, some things I say may be a little stretched," tour guide Norm Danis said.

One veteran carriage driver said he is insulted and bitter about the test.

"I would protest the test; if it's the only thing I can do to keep my job, I would do it, but I would also file a lawsuit," carriage operator Brian Kane said.

Any tourist guide outfit, whether it be private, for profit, or non-profit, that is caught using tourist guides that have not passed the test will be subject to fines and possibly have their business' privilege license revoked.

This kind of tour guide testing is already being done in New York City, Charlotte, North Caroline, and other places.