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Bill Radke: Washington, D.C., rakes in $5 billion each year from tourism. That money comes from the pockets of roughly 15 million visitors. And many of those visitors rely on a tour guide to show them around. The local government is relaxing the rules for wanna-be guides to get licensed. While some in the business are hailing the changes as long overdue, others worry about protecting their turf. From WAMU in Washington, D.C., Rebecca Sheir has this story.
Rebecca Sheir: Carolyn Crouch has been leading tours in D.C. since 1998.
Carolyn Crouch: So I’m actually gonna have us start and look at Heritage Trail sign number one. Then were gonna make our way north, down 4th Street.
She says applying for a license was quite the paper chase.
Crouch: It was almost as document-intensive as what I had to do to adopt my daughter from Vietnam.
Fellow tour guide Tim Krepp agrees.
Tim Krepp: That was a very baroque and byzantine process.
Krepp says to get licensed, you had to attest to a whole slew of things.
Krepp: Most notably that you were not a drunkard. Ah, I believe the doctor had to do that.
The notarized doctors note also had to vouch for your hearing and vision, and that you didn’t have things like epilepsy and heart disease. Finally, aspiring guides had to prove they were an American citizen who can read, speak and write English. All those requirements are gone. And nixing that last rule worries Maricar Donato, who’s been guiding in D.C. nearly 30 years.
Maricar Donato: Theyre going to remove that law about the U.S. citizenship. Thats not good, because theyre stealing my job!
But chances are her livelihood will be safe. Donato leads prep classes for the D.C. License Exam, which tests your savvy on history, buildings, monuments.
Donato: True or false: the Washington National Zoo is one of the 19 Smithsonian museums.
The city still will require guides to pass that test. But Carolyn Crouch applauds D.C. for easing the other guidelines. Unlike Donato, she says the relaxed rules shouldn’t hurt tour guides, or tourism.
Crouch: I don’t think thats gonna decrease the number of people who come to visit. And theres more than enough people for a big cadre of tour guides.
What’s important, she says, is that those guides are excited, passionate, and, of course, knowledgeable. Which brings us to that test question, about the National Zoo? Its not considered one of the 19 Smithsonian museums, because technically, its a research center. Next time you’re touring D.C., see if you can try and stump your guide with that one.
In Washington, I’m Rebecca Sheir for Marketplace.