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Archive for Monday, May 28, 2007

Tour guides may be tested for accuracy

May 28, 2007

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— Tour guides will show you this historic city on foot, trolley or double-decker bus, in a horse-drawn carriage, while riding a Segway or even as you blow a kazoo on a boat with wheels.

But can you believe what they say?

That's a concern of some Philadelphia hospitality officials, who worry the city's most valuable asset - its history - is being tarnished by unreliable tour guides who mix up dates and spice up biographies of famous founders like Benjamin Franklin and George Washington.

The issue has sparked debate and a proposed ordinance to test and license guides.

"Bring it on," said Jill Lawrence, a Colonial re-enactor who supports the idea. She said many of her interactions with tourists include correcting misinformation they've heard elsewhere - such as that flagmaker Betsy Ross, a three-time widow, killed her husbands. Not true.

"These are things we hear over and over," she said. "It would be terrific if we didn't have to correct these rumors all day long."

Because history and tourism are such big business in Philadelphia, it's important to have guides people can trust, said Meryl Levitz, president and CEO of the Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corp.

The Liberty Bell alone had 1.8 million visitors last year, and tourism in the region generated $10 billion, she said.

"What people value most about their Philadelphia experience is authenticity," Levitz said, and that shouldn't be ruined by "well-meaning people who are looking to invigorate their stories."

If the ordinance is approved, Philadelphia would join a number of cities with regulations, including Washington, New Orleans and Charleston, S.C.

Would-be tour guides in Williamsburg, Va., must pass a multiple-choice test that includes general Colonial history and Williamsburg history. Licenses cost $100 and are good for three years. In Savannah, Ga., prospective guides are given a 91-page manual to study before paying $100 to take a test.

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