Occupational Licensing

Unlicensed Tour Guides Not Allowed in Savannah

Institute for Justice working to change that.


Michelle Freenor's business almost failed before it began.

That would have been a loss, since her Savannah, Georgia, walking tour gets only good reviews from customers. "Top notch tour guide giving us a lot of history of Savannah's Historic District," said one five-star Yelp review. "Great, informative," said another.

But that didn't matter to Savannah politicians. They said she had to get a government license if she wanted to charge people for tours. And getting the license was difficult.

She had to pay $100 and then "pass a college-level history exam with tons of obscure gotcha questions," Freenor told us. Passing required "three to five months of studying because it was about 120 pages. I had to map out where I was standing, what I was saying."

It's one more example of abuse of licensing rules. Dick Carpenter, author of the book Bottleneckers, lists how these regulations strangle new businesses.

"She also had to do a criminal background check, which meant she had to give a urine sample and a blood sample." Carpenter told me. "She also had to go through a physical fitness test."

No matter, said the city, you must pass the test and you must pay the fee.

"The city was making a nice bit of money," says Freenor.

A Stossel.com video producer went to Savannah to confront the licensing rules' biggest promoter, Alderman Bill Durrence. "A lot of people think that this fee is just another money grab by the city," he admitted, "but I hear a lot of tour guides saying things that make me cringe."

So what? Some of the more popular Savannah tours are "ghost tours." Those tour guides must take the test, too, although it includes no questions about ghosts. The city even had some wrong answers on its test. It claimed "Jingle Bells" was written in Savannah. Most people say it was written in Massachusetts.

The test also misidentified the city's largest square.

Savannah's politicians demanded aspiring tour guides pass a test that included rules about horse-and-buggy and tram tours, even if the guides only intended to walk.

Freenor took the exam and passed it on her first try. But then she got sick; she has lupus.

"When I told them, hey, I don't think I can pass the physical this year, I was actually told by a city official, well, I guess you're going to have to find another occupation."

Durrence admits, "There were a couple of points that maybe went a little too far in the licensing process, (like) having to have a physical exam periodically, maybe the cost of the test."

Yes—politicians routinely go too far.

Fortunately, the Institute for Justice, the libertarian law firm where Carpenter works, helped Freenor sue Savannah, and the city backed down. Robert Johnson, one of Freenor's lawyers, points out that such licensing laws violate the guides' right to free speech. "What tour guides do is talk for a living. They're just like stand-up comedians, journalists or novelists. In this country, you don't need a license from government to be able to talk."

An Institute for Justice lawsuit got rid of the Washington, D.C., tour guide test, too.

Will terrible guides start giving terrible tours because of that?

No, says Freenor. "The free market is taking care of itself. Bad tour companies don't last."

She's right. Competition is the best way to decide which tour is good. In fact, a recent Institute for Justice study—using Trip Advisor review data—found that tour guide quality was no different after Washington's test was eliminated.

Alderman Durrence doesn't like the fact that the market, rather than government, determines consumer service: "Little by little we've managed to get control of some things, but we still don't have control over a lot!"

Give me a break. Government control is everywhere and always growing.

Freenor says, "It's the free market that made us successful, not the city of Savannah. You shouldn't have to pass a test to be able to tell people where the best ice cream in Savannah is."

Watch the video below:


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  1. “Institute for Justice”

    See, Warner Brothers? THIS is how it’s done.

    1. “Justice Institute”: A Joint Production of Warner Bros. and Koch Industries

      Starring Bat-Rand, Supermarket, Green Eyeshade, Plunder Woman and The Cash.

      Also this dude named Cyborg, because apparently “Diversity” is more than just an old, old wooden ship from the Civil War era.

      1. Frankly, I’d rather live under the benign despotism of the Brain than under we system we’re currently recognizing.

        1. I’m making over $7k a month working part time. I kept hearing other people tell me how much money they can make online so I decided to look into it. Well, it was all true and has totally changed my life.

          This is what I do… http://www.startonlinejob.com

  2. Who knew that prior restraint laws were still en effect – at least until the Institute for Justice put a stop to them.

    Even the most minimalist interpretation of the First Amendment makes prior restraint – requiring a license before you can speak – unconstitutional.

    Maybe public officials should be required to take a historical-knowledge test to see if they understand the context and meaning of the Constitution. They can be tested on the press licensing laws which required government approval before you could print a book or pamphlet. Those laws expired in 1695, and soon the absence of such laws was being touted as a glory of the British Constitution. Even the more repressive censors in the U. S. acknowledged that prior restraint was unconstitutional.

    1. So then the laws which forbid the selling of legal services without being a member of the Bar are all unconstitutional?

      So the conviction of Ralph Perfetto for practicing law without a license was unconstitutional?

      So you’re saying that the constitution bars laws against fraud, because we have a ‘right’ to say any lie we want, and get people to pay us for our lies? really?

      So Kimberly Kitchen’s conviction for practicing law without a licence was unconstitutional, and we must allow any ten year old to sell legal services and advice to paying customers without any sort of requirement that the ten year old know anything?

      Just let the buyer beware, eh? Fraud is legal, like greed is good. Get out of your AynRandian nonsense, and join the real world.

      1. Government cannot police lies, because government does not care about truth- only itself.

        If you’re too stupid to know terrible advice from an ignorant vendor when you see it, you may suffer as you will. The wise should not be held back for the benefit of the fool.

      2. It seems like Netizen_James is unfamiliar with the concept of prior restraint.

        Abolish prior restraint, and the anarchic, dystopian result is…that the government has to wait for someone to actually say or publish something before acting against the speech or publication.

        1. “So you’re saying”

          When someone on the Internet begins a sentence like that, the rest of the sentence is usually a ridiculous straw man, and such is the case here.

  3. IJ is a far superior civil rights group to the ACLU.

  4. How does requiring someone not to have lupus before she can have a job not violate the ADA?

    1. There are some limits to ADA like a roofer doesn’t have to hire a paraplegic because they can’t physically climb a ladder and lay shingle. Not sure those exemptions fit here but I wouldn’t doubt if the government carved a nice chunk out of the legislation to protect themselves.

      -not a lawyer

  5. Yeah, sure, everything will be better once we get rid of these onerous and useless laws requiring ‘licenses’ for physicians, lawyers, and accountants….

    Let the buyer beware. Anyone should just be able to hang up a shingle and start selling legal advice, without any sort of training or knowledge of the law, right?

    See if you can find even ONE politician who thinks that anyone and their brother should be able to sell legal, medical, or accounting services without some sort of license or certification. Good luck with that.

    1. See if you can find one that thinks all heroin, cocaine and methemphetamine should be legalized.

      You won’t find anyone who gives a shit about “Argumentum Ad Consensus” in this comment section, Statist.

  6. “Little by little we’ve managed to get control of some things, but we still don’t have control over a lot!”

    My heart bleeds for you, statist mofo.

  7. Savannah, as late as the 1980’s, was not anywhere close to being the chic tourist destination it is today. I suspect these tour guide regulations are part of the larger push that got the city where it is today.

  8. Does the government have a duty to protect the consumers from historically inaccurate i.e. fraudulent guided tours? What if a guide passes the test and pays the fee but just makes up the history anyway? How would a tourist even know?

  9. http://www.savannahga.gov/index.aspx?NID=1493

    These restrictions were removed back in 2015.

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