The history of Savannah has a long, legendary path from the pre -revolutionary war days to the shape it’s taken in the 21st century. There are intriguing stories from the city’s founding in 1733 to the revolutionary war & the civil war to the industrial revolution when cotton was king. We are now arguably in the midst of what could be called the Tourism Revolution in Georgia’s first city & first capitol.
With over 12 million visitors per year in recent years, tourism plays a vital role in the city’s economy. This is no accident. The city has worked hard for years to develop the reputation as a prime tourist destination. The accolades the city has received in recent years are very impressive:
- “Most Romantic American Cities – #1” – Trivago.com, February 2015
- “Top 10 Trending Destinations – #7” – Kayak.com Travel Hacker Guide, February 2015
- “Most Romantic Destinations in the U.S. – #17” – DatingAdvice.com, February 2015
- “Ten Must-See Attractions Along the East Coast – #9” – Drive The Nation, February 2015
- “Top 14 Travel Destinations for 2015” – Ebony, February 2015
- “World’s Biggest St. Patrick’s Day Celebrations – #8” – Fodor’s Travel, February 2015
- “Most Romantic Cities in the South – #1” – Huffington Post, March 2015
- “10Best Places to Party Like You’re Irish – #1” – USA Today, March 2015
- “Top 10 Overall Vacation Destination – #7” – Family Fun Magazine, March 2015
- “Top 10 Regional Destination for the South – #5” – Family Fun Magazine, March 2015
- and the list goes on….
As Savannah developed it’s reputation as a premier tourist destination, the local economy developed to support the increased demand for hotels, restaurants & sightseeing tours. Sources estimate that the tourism industry in Savannah generates over $2.2 Billion per year! Sightseeing tours are a significant part of our tourism economy. If you pass through the Historic District during the day and into the night, you are sure to see a number of trolley tours, horse drawn carriage tours & walking tours. Since 1978, every Savannah tour guide has been required to pass a test and be licensed by the city. Now that is part of the history of Savannah!
In November 2014, citing violation of free speech, a group of tour guides challenged the constitutionality of the requirement for tour guides to be licensed. After months of debate, the city recently ended the licensing requirements for Savannah tour guides. While the guides that initiated the challenge may be happy about this decision, there are others who are alarmed about the change. The main concern is that eliminating the licensing will adversely affect the quality of sightseeing tours. In a worst case scenario, a sustained decline in the quality of sightseeing tours could hurt the booming tourism economy in Savannah.
Rest assured, the city will continue to regulate how a Savannah tour guide operates. There’s more to the equation than the licensing. The city also collects a $1 per adult tax from Tour Service Companies in Savannah. There is a long list of city regulations that tour operators & tour guides must follow. The details can be found on the City of Savannah web site, but here’s an short summary of what we know about the new regulations.
Tour Service Companies need to obtain a business tax certificate & register each Tour Guide that works for the company (as an employee or independent contractor) with the city prior to starting their tour guide activities. Gone are the requirements that included the tour guide test, background check, physical exam & licensing fee.
Each Savannah Tour Guide will be required to display an identification badge when conducting tours. The minimum size of the ID badge is 3″ x 2.5″, and the badge should be clearly visible to the public when the guide is conducting tours. The ID badge should contain a picture of the guide in the upper left hand corner along with the guide’s name and the name of the Tour Service Company.
Our interpretation of the changes to the Savannah Tour Guide licensing is summarized in a few key points:
- The Tour Service Companies & Tour Guides in Savannah will continue to be regulated by the city of Savannah
- To be a Savannah Tour Guide , you will need to either (1) work for an established Tour Service Company or (2) create your own Tour Service Company.
- Every Savannah Tour Guide will need to wear ID badges when conducting tours
- Tour Guides can use their city ID badges until January 1, 2016.
- After January 1, 2016, Tour Service Companies will need to issues ID badges to their guides that meet the requirements of the city.
Prior to the change in the city ordinances, there were >300 licensed tour guides in Savannah. These changes are likely to intensify the competition in a market that is already very competitive. Could this deregulation of the tour guide licensing hurt the multi-billion dollar tourism industry in Savannah? Time will tell what impact this change will have not only on the quality of sightseeing tours in the city, but also the tourism economy in the city as a whole.
Savannah Tour Guide – Voluntary Certification
With the recent changes to the city ordinances affecting Savannah Tour Guide licensing, there is a movement toward a voluntary certification program. The Tourism Leadership Council (TLC) is in the preliminary stages of developing a voluntary certification program for Savannah tour guides. Their goal is to have the program completed by the end of this year, and ideally have several guides complete the certification.
Cool Savannah Tours & Gifts supports the idea of a voluntary certification program for Savannah tour guides. We will continue to strive to provide visitors to Savannah with an outstanding sightseeing experience.
We welcome your comments and feedback on this issue.