Test for Natchez tour guides in the works

Published 12:44 am Sunday, November 6, 2016

NATCHEZ — The City of Natchez is looking to establish a test to license tour guides who work in the city.

The question, though, is, exactly who is going to create and give the test?

The city’s code calls for a tour guide test to be administered by a nine-member volunteer tourism management council.

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“But that council doesn’t exist anymore,” Interim Tourism Director Jennifer Ogden Combs said.

Creating a standardized tour guide test has come up in recent months at Natchez Board of Aldermen meetings.

When Jeremy Houston recently sought approval from the board to establish a tour company — Miss-Lou Heritage & Group Tours — specializing in African-American history tours, he encouraged the board to create a tour guide test inclusive of Natchez’s diverse history.

At the board of aldermen’s last meeting, the topic came up again when the board was discussing New Orleans hotelier Warren Reuther’s plan to establish City Sightseeing franchise double-decker bus tours in Natchez.

Ogden said at the meeting that the city has not had a consistent policy through which tour guides were tested and licensed for several years.

Ward 3 Sarah Smith said she had received calls from residents wondering how guides are trained and heard reports that some information shared with visitors during tours may not have been historically accurate.

Reuther said at the meeting that in New Orleans, tour guides have to complete an approximately six-month course at Delgado Community College in order to be licensed. He told the board he would be happy to share information and materials about how guides are certified in New Orleans.

Ward 1 Alderwoman Joyce Arceneaux-Mathis said she would like to see local schools involved so that students have an opportunity to learn about the history of their community.

Mayor Darryl Grennell said the city is exploring partnering with Copiah-Lincoln Community College or another educational institution to create a course for tour guides.

Grennell said the course should be available to residents who may not necessarily be interested in becoming a tour guide, but want to learn more about area history.

The board of aldermen charged the recently appointed Natchez Convention and Promotion Commission with creating a test and a plan to implement it to license tour guides.

The commission discussed at its Oct. 26 meeting creating and administering a test, stressing the need for the test to include multiple facets of Natchez history, from architecture and antebellum houses to African-American culture, Native American culture and various other points of interest.

The commission, however, expressed apprehension that the test could be properly researched with input from local historians and experts and created quickly.

Combs said the city would likely need to first address the issue of which entity and organization will be responsible for administering the test.

Step-on bus tour guides who work for Natchez Pilgrimage Tours must pass a test to work as a guide, but that test is independent of the city.

Others tour operators, such as Houston, also create and administer tests specific to their tour offerings to the guides they employ.

Combs also said even though some tour operators offer tours based on specific aspects of Natchez history and culture, the city’s test would serve as a baseline for overall knowledge of Natchez history.

The most recent tour guide manual Combs said she has been able to dig up was updated in 2000.

“We will have to look at who actually can do it in terms of time and what’s going to be involved,” she said. “You really want it to be updated and tell the whole story of Natchez. This year we really learned that people are hungry for all of the story. It needs to be comprehensive and cover all aspects of history. It’s going to take not just pulling together past manuals, but updating everything and possibly updating city codes. And we want to create something that is consistent and available to everybody to study and learn.

“But it is not something that is going to get resolved very quickly.”

Combs emphasized that creating a new test will take partnerships from various entities in Natchez.

“There’s going to need to be a coming together with the city and tourism partners and people who are experts in needing to create something that is a joint venture with the Historic Natchez Foundation, Natchez Pilgrimage Tours and other entities,” Combs said.