Not everyone is qualified to lead a tour of the nation’s capital — which is why the city has rules to keep unqualified tour guides from ripping off customers. But the owners of one D.C. tour business are challenging the constitutionality of those rules in court. We talk with the head of D.C.’s tour guide guild and learn more about the rules that govern the tour guide industry.


  • Jim Heegeman President, The Guild of Professional Tour Guides of Washington, D.C.
  • Robert McNamara Staff Attorney, Institute for Justice


  • 12:06:41

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. You may be a lifelong Washingtonian, you may be a history buff, you may have given your personal tour of the District to your cousins, your in-laws and your former college roommates, but that doesn't mean you're qualified to be a licensed tour guide in the nation's capital. The city has rules in place to make sure that if you're charging money to show people around the monuments, you actually know what you're talking about. There's even a guild that represents licensed professional tour givers.

  • 12:07:26

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIBut that hasn't stopped one local business from challenging the constitutionality of the city's licensing laws for tour guides in federal court. Joining us to talk about tour guides in Washington is Jim Heegeman. He is the president of The Guild of Professional Tour Guides of Washington, D.C. He joins us in studio. Jim Heegeman, thank you very much for joining us.

  • 12:07:48

    MR. JIM HEEGEMANWell, thank you for having me.

  • 12:07:49

    NNAMDIAnd I'd like to start hearing from you early on this issue. You can call us at 800-433-8850. Where do you take people when you're responsible for giving them your personal tour of Washington, D.C.? And how well do you think you know the city? Do you think you need to be licensed in order to do it? 800-433-8850. Or you can go to our website and start commenting, What's the worst tour you've ever been on in the Washington region? Jim Heegeman, a lot of people think we know the city well enough to show people the sights, give them our personal tour of Washington, but there are some pretty hard and fast rules for how you get licensed to be a tour guide in the District. What are the basics for that credentialing process?

  • 12:08:36

    HEEGEMANWell, basically, you have to take a tour guide license. That's the -- probably the biggest criteria. It's a hundred questions, and you have, like, two hours to take it. It's multiple choice. And you have to get 70 on it.

  • 12:08:54

    NNAMDIYou have to score at least 70 percent on the...

  • 12:08:56


  • 12:08:56

    NNAMDI...D.C., District of Columbia Sightseeing Tour Guide Professional Licensing Examination. Correct?

  • 12:09:02


  • 12:09:03

    NNAMDIIt's my understanding, however, that the rules were tweaked earlier this year. How are they different now?

  • 12:09:09

    HEEGEMANWell, what happened is the licensing of tour guides used to be in one part of the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs. It used to be in -- under what's called the business section, and now it's moved to the occupational and professional section. So when they made the move, which they also, coincidentally, they moved their location, when they made that move, they changed things. They wanted to very much go online. And so they do the test now online. You get -- you take the test at a computer station. You get immediate results, whether you passed or failed. And they try to do the registering of tour guides all online also because they wanted to speed up the whole process.

  • 12:10:00

    NNAMDIWhat kinds of questions do you get on the test?

  • 12:10:04

    HEEGEMANWell, it's actually been 11 years since I took the test, (laugh) you'd only take it at the beginning, so I can only relate back to that. The people who have taken the test recently -- well, you have questions related to architecture, you have questions related to buildings, personnel, things like that.

  • 12:10:23


  • 12:10:24


  • 12:10:25

    NNAMDI...museums, art galleries, that kind of thing?

  • 12:10:26


  • 12:10:28

    NNAMDIIt's my understanding that the recent tweaking of the rules, according to one report by Michael Nebauer in Washington Business Journal who writes, "Gone is the demand that an applicant read, write and speak English. It's replaced with proficient in the English language. No longer must an aspiring guide maintain a sound physique with at least 20-40 eyesight and hearing in both ears, not lived with epilepsy, vertigo or heart trouble and be free from any contagious or infectious disease. And the old rules prohibited a drunkard from participating in doing this. But now, a drunkard, according to the amended rules, is free to apply." I suspect we'll have problems figuring out exactly what a drunkard is in today's lingo.

  • 12:11:09

    HEEGEMANWell, people used to laugh about the (laugh) drunkard situation. And some of the rules were kind of...

  • 12:11:16

    NNAMDIAncient (laugh) is the word.

  • 12:11:17

    HEEGEMANYes. So they modified them. And we were generally happy with what they modified them to.

  • 12:11:23

    NNAMDIWhat interest does your guild have in maintaining a strong licensing system in the city?

  • 12:11:28

    HEEGEMANWell, when you -- when a person wants to join the guild, first thing they have to do is they have to pass the D.C. license exam. So that's one of the basic criteria. We feel that's like the -- well, it's the ground, the minimum that they should know. And so we're happy to use that as our going in position. And then we have a few other things such as getting recommendations and things like that. But basically, they have to pass the D.C. tour guide license.

  • 12:11:57

    NNAMDIWe're talking with Jim Heegeman. He is president of The Guild of Professional Tour Guides of Washington, D.C. He joins us in studio. The guild helped to prepare some of the revised rules that were crafted by the D.C. office of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs. The results are regulations that the guild feels are greatly simplified and still protect the public from unscrupulous tour guides. Give us a few examples of what unscrupulous tour guides have done.

  • 12:12:27

    HEEGEMANWell, first of all, let me correct. We did not really work with DCRA on the revision of the rules.

  • 12:12:34

    NNAMDIOh, okay.

  • 12:12:34

    HEEGEMANAnd it's -- it was -- been said in a couple of places that we did. Because somebody actually from WAMU wanted to talk to us about that, I called around, put up messages on our list serve to see if somebody would fess up that they had helped. And I could find nobody. So -- well, there was one person who did a little bit. But, basically, we did not. We saw the rules and as I said, we were generally pleased with what they did.

  • 12:13:05

    NNAMDIOnce you've gotten the license and your credential to do business here, how does one go about becoming a card-carrying member of the guild?

  • 12:13:13

    HEEGEMANWell, as I say, you have to first pass the exam. Then you have to get some recommendations from personnel, and then your name is submitted to the guild board. And more than likely, you'll be approved if everything looks okay.

  • 12:13:30

    NNAMDIWe're gonna go to the phones in a second. You can still call us, 800-433-8850. We're talking about tour guides and the license needed to do that in the District of Columbia. Do you think the people who charge money for giving tours in Washington, D.C. have to be professionally licensed in order to do so? Call us at 800-433-8850. Send us an e-mail to, a tweet @kojoshow or go to our website, and join the conversation there. Your guild has a code of ethics. What are the kinds of ethical guidelines you lay out for your members?

  • 12:14:05

    HEEGEMANWhen you accept a job from a tour company that -- and then you get a better job downstream, you don't leave the first tour company in a lurch. You accept that job and you're gonna follow through on that, that you will not solicit gratuities, that you won't take guides to places that are giving kickbacks to guides or drivers and things like that, unless the itinerary calls for it.

  • 12:14:32

    NNAMDISo your code of ethics answers in a way the question I had earlier about what do unscrupulous tour guides do, because your code of ethics turned me on to what are conceivably the kind of scams that an unscrupulous tour guide can indulge in, getting a kickback from the kind of souvenir stores that you take people to, asking for a job for the person -- from the business that...

  • 12:14:56


  • 12:14:56

    NNAMDI...hired you to conduct the tour. I guess, you had experience with those kinds of things in the past, and that's what led to the code of ethics.

  • 12:15:01

    HEEGEMANAbsolutely. And every year when you renew your membership, you have to re-sign the code of ethics that you still agree with that. And the other thing you have to do is every year when you renew your membership in the guild, you have to show your current license to make sure your license is still valid with the District.

  • 12:15:19

    NNAMDIAnd the code of ethics said nor should a guide attempt to divert to another person or company business from the company that has hired him or her.

  • 12:15:27


  • 12:15:28

    NNAMDIOnto the telephones. Here's Paul in Washington, D.C. Paul, you are on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:15:34

    PAULHi, Kojo. Hi, Jim.

  • 12:15:35


  • 12:15:35

    PAULPaul Masuko (sp?) with Affirmative Tours in D.C. LLC and Alexandria a small company. I am the company. Anyway, it's a small company. I drive those National Pedi-cabs, those bicycle-rickshaws, around the mall. And I love D.C., and there's so much to learn about D.C., so that's why I call myself a permanent tourist here in D.C. because there's just so much to find out about. And I've worked on the Hill and worked on K Street and all that. And I just love D.C. and taking people from around the world and all the countries just to see new things. And it's not just the Mall, and then there's Shaw and Anacostia. I show them where the homeless shelters are. I show them where the soup kitchens are, and I show them where the White House is.

  • 12:16:18

    NNAMDIAnd you do this all while pedaling, Paul?

  • 12:16:21

    PAULYes, I do. And I pedal carefully, and then sometimes I pull over for things like the Lincoln Memorial or the White House or the, you know -- there's so many interesting things around the capital itself.

  • 12:16:35

    NNAMDIAre you licensed to do this, Paul?

  • 12:16:38

    PAULNot yet. I have spent $200 to get the DCRA. The regulations are changing since I've done this. And I'm still waiting for the -- to take the test, and I feel confident I can pass the test.

  • 12:16:49

    NNAMDISo you've paid the application fee?

  • 12:16:53

    PAULI've spent $200 on the application.

  • 12:16:54


  • 12:16:55

    PAULI sent three times my -- a copy of my driver's license so they can actually see me -- see my face correctly. I'm not blaming the system on that. That's just how it is. But it's -- you see it is kind of onerous and burdensome and I'm a Democrat but, gee, I can see what some of the Republicans are coming from with all this critique of regulations.

  • 12:17:17

    NNAMDIWhat made you decide to get into the business?

  • 12:17:21

    PAULWell, I got a biology degree and couldn't find work, and I decided that I love D.C. and I'm happily married and want to stay happily married so I want to keep working, making money.

  • 12:17:29

    NNAMDIJim Heegeman, what advice would you have for Paul?

  • 12:17:33

    HEEGEMANWell, one of the things we offer in the guild, if you want to join the guild, is we have a continuing education program. Like every year, we have an update at Arlington Cemetery. The historian there gives us an update on the latest happenings at Arlington, so that we always are giving out the best information. We have an update every year at Mount Vernon, so that people know what's happening up at Mount Vernon, what's coming in at Mount Vernon. We have a cathedral certification only guild guides are allowed to -- in addition to the Washington National Cathedral docents, guild guides help out by providing their tours which supplement the docents at the Washington National Cathedral.

  • 12:18:18

    HEEGEMANSo there's things you benefit from, plus those annual things that we do. It wouldn't pertain to you, but we have -- twice a year, we have tour guides -- excuse me, motor coach guiding, training on a motor coach. We do an hour in the classroom and about four hours in the motor coach. We learn best routes to take, best way to talk to the -- use the microphone, best way to talk to the driver, commentary, development, things like that. And that's offered twice a year, and that's very popular. Plus, we do normal -- I counted up, we are doing 20 education programs this year and training programs. So there's continuing education that happens that's available for the guides because you can't stay static in the guiding industry. You have to keep up.

  • 12:19:09

    NNAMDIPaul, you have applied for your license, but you don't yet have it. Do you know whether or not you're in violation of the law, not by simply carrying people around, but by trying to describe stuff?

  • 12:19:21

    PAULFunny, the law is murky at the moment. The D.C. government is promulgating regulations right now specifically with pedi-cabs, and they're also promulgating regulations -- changes in regulations when it comes to tour guides. No, I'm not in violation of the law for doing what I'm doing. I say that we offer for tips, and I do tours for 60 an hour, and that's the straight-up-front how I do it.

  • 12:19:47

    NNAMDIAnd, Paul, I sit in admiration of pedi-cab drivers because I know you guys require a lot of energy to do what you do. Thank you very much for your call.

  • 12:19:55

    PAULThank you.

  • 12:19:56

    NNAMDIGood luck to you. We move on to Gabrielle in Washington, D.C. Gabrielle, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:20:03

    GABRIELLEGood afternoon. My quick question was just simply, how do these proposed rule or rules apply to hike leaders that lead hikes in various parts of D.C. that include information about what you're looking at or the history and so forth?

  • 12:20:18

    NNAMDII have no idea. We invited the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs to join us for this discussion. They declined. But I don't know if Jim Heegeman knows.

  • 12:20:28

    HEEGEMANWell, I'm certainly not an expert on that either, but basically, my understanding is if you're getting paid for what you're going to do, then you should get a license.

  • 12:20:40

    GABRIELLESo the criteria is if you get paid, then you need a license.

  • 12:20:42


  • 12:20:43

    NNAMDIThat's my understanding. And Paul said they are still promulgating rules at DCRA. Jim Heegeman, do you know what stage that promulgation is at this point?

  • 12:20:52

    HEEGEMANAs far as I'm aware, the D.C. rules have been promulgated and approved, so they're in effect right now, the new ones.

  • 12:20:59

    NNAMDIAnd so Paul and others could be in violation of the law?

  • 12:21:04

    HEEGEMANI'm not sure. I don't recall that they specifically talked about pedi-cabs or maybe some sort of special area that they're working on in that regard.

  • 12:21:12

    NNAMDIWell, later in the broadcast, we'll be hearing about Segways. Right now, we have to take a break but we're interested in your calls and your experiences with tour guides in Washington, D.C., licensed or not. 800-433-8850. What's the best tour you have ever been on in Washington, D.C. and what's the worst? 800-433-8850. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

  • 12:23:18

    NNAMDIWe're talking about tour guides in Washington, D.C. and the need for a license in order to do that. Joining us in studio is Jim Heegeman. He is president of the Guild of Professional Tour Guides of Washington, D.C. If you'd like to join the conversation, call us at 800-433-8850. Do you think people who charge money for giving tours in Washington, D.C. should have to be professionally licensed to do so or not? 800-433-8850. Here is Deborah in Alexandria, Va. Deborah, you're on the air. Go ahead please.

  • 12:23:51

    DEBORAHHello. Good afternoon.

  • 12:23:52

    NNAMDIGood afternoon.

  • 12:23:54

    DEBORAHMy question is, how does Washington, compared to other major tourism destinations around the world -- London, Rome, Paris, Hong Kong -- do they have -- I think many of those countries seem to have licensing and serious training programs, so I'd be curious to know Jim's thoughts on that.

  • 12:24:15


  • 12:24:16

    HEEGEMANWell, as she said, most -- almost every foreign country and major capitals have a requirement that the tour guide be -- they call them tourist guides there, only in the United States and a few other places do we call them tour guides, in most places they are tourist guides -- they have to be licensed. And it's usually a rather extensive training program that those countries require them to go through.

  • 12:24:41

    NNAMDIDeborah, thank you for your call.

  • 12:24:43

    DEBORAHThank you for your information. Bye-bye.

  • 12:24:44

    NNAMDIYou too can call us. 800-433-8850. Jim Heegeman, anyone who's interned on Capitol Hill can tell you giving tours of the Capitol Building has become a rite of passage for congressional interns. What concerns do you have about the fact that so many young, inexperienced people are leading tours of such a historic place? Here's this e-mail we got from Claire. "When my in-laws were in town, I made the grave mistake of booking a tour for them through their congressman's office. I'm not going to name said congressman. That would be unfair. However, the tour was terrible. They were shown around the building by a college student who had just started his internship in Washington three days before he led their tour. He told them, among other things, Benjamin Harrison was shot in the Capitol building. Last time I checked, that's not true. So a word to the wise, don't book your tour of the Capitol through your congressman's office. You might be assigned an intern on their first week of work."

  • 12:25:40

    HEEGEMANWell, that's kind of a sore subject with the guild. Of course, before 9/11, we could give some tours not -- usually the -- what they call the Redcoats, they would give the tours of the building. And after hours and on Sundays and sometimes on Saturdays, guild or all guides could give tours of the Capitol. And so, I remember when I first started out, I used to give tours of the Capitol. So now when you go there, there's two ways to get it. You can take the normal Redcoat tour, which is what they usually recommend, or you can have -- go through your congressman and there, just as she said, you end up with somebody who may or may not know anything at all.

  • 12:26:22

    HEEGEMANI can go one better. I had one who -- my group was going to be go --around with a congressman or with the intern, and she had just started. she had literally just started. And so, she really didn't know anything. A lot of them turn it over when they know there's a licensed guide with them, they turn it over to them, and just use their badge to get us around and they -- that guide gives the tour.

  • 12:26:48

    NNAMDII was about to say, you can also get professionally guided tours in the Capitol building. How do you do that?

  • 12:26:53

    HEEGEMANJust go to the Capitol Visitor Center and -- well, you can sign up ahead of time, but you can go there during the non-busy seasons and you can get in and you can take the normal tour which is, of course, much -- usually much better than the intern-led tour.

  • 12:27:08

    NNAMDIHave you taken your relatives around Washington, D.C., given them the personal tour? How good do you think it was? How much did you know? Do you think tour guides should be licensed if they're going to be taking people around the city? 800-433-8850. Here is Chris in Alexandria, Va. Chris, you're on the air. Go ahead please.

  • 12:27:29

    CHRISI was just curious why no one seems to be perturbed about the fact that it sort of seems to be a violation of a person's freedom of speech and -- and their right to make a living by requiring a licensing for giving a tour?

  • 12:27:41

    NNAMDIChris, I am so glad you asked that question because joining us now in studio is Robert McNamara. He is a staff attorney with the Institute for Justice. He represents the owners of a business who are challenging the constitutionality of the District of Columbia's regulations for licensing tour guides. So Chris, listen up. Robert McNamara, thank you very much for joining us.

  • 12:28:01

    MR. ROBERT MCNAMARAThanks very much for having me.

  • 12:28:03

    NNAMDIYou have filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of these licensing requirements. You said, they're not just nuisances, they are unlawful. Where do these regulations violate the law in your view?

  • 12:28:15

    MCNAMARAWell, I think Chris is exactly right. And one thing we haven't heard yet during this discussion is that if you describe things without getting the special license from the city government, you can actually be thrown in jail for up to 90 days. There's no problem with the voluntary certification thing -- with the voluntary certification program, I'm all for qualified tour guides. But the First Amendment means that in this country, we trust people to decide who they want to listen to. We don't rely on the government to decide who's going to be allowed to speak, and D.C.'s tour guide regulations turn that principle exactly on its head.

  • 12:28:45

    NNAMDISo you would say that Paul, our pedi-cab driver who called in earlier, once Paul opens his mouth, he can be thrown in jail for 90 days because he is not yet licensed?

  • 12:28:56

    MCNAMARAIf he's accepting money and he's describing things to his customers without first obtaining a special license from the city, he's in violation of the law, and he can be fined or even imprisoned for three months.

  • 12:29:05

    NNAMDIHow would you describe the kind of business your clients in this lawsuit are engaged in?

  • 12:29:10

    MCNAMARAOur clients run a business called Segs in the City. They operate Segway tours about downtown and of the embassies around Northwest Washington, D.C. People get to rent a Segway. They learn to ride a Segway. They have a great time. And to be clear, the city has no problem with my clients driving Segways around the city. There are regulations on how fast Segways can go and who's allowed to ride them, and they follow those regulations. But as soon as my clients opened their mouths and say, look at that building or hey, over there is the Washington Monument, they become criminals in the eyes of the district, and that's the First Amendment violation.

  • 12:29:42

    NNAMDISo you're contending that the city's regulations make it a crime to "describe things"?

  • 12:29:48

    MCNAMARAYes, the regulations specifically say that you are not -- that describing points of interest in Washington, D.C. is being a sightseeing guide, and you're required to have a license if you want to do that to a paying group.

  • 12:29:59

    NNAMDIWell, the city would argue, and as we said, we invited the city here, but it declined, so I'll argue for the city. The city would argue, "Don't we have a responsibility to protect consumers from scammers, from people who” -- well, let me read this e-mail to you. "I think we should let anyone give tours. I love the scenes in “Slumdog Millionaire” where the kids made up facts as they led British and American tours through the Taj Mahal. We can have tour guides telling tourists that the founders fought the revolution on the slogan of no taxation, instead of the factual slogan of no taxation without representation. It'll be a veritable free market of ideas. Doesn't the city have a right to protect paying consumers from scammers?"

  • 12:30:41

    MCNAMARAOh, the city doesn't have a right to shut people up who it doesn't think should be speaking.

  • 12:30:45

    NNAMDIWell, not a right, a responsibility.

  • 12:30:46

    MCNAMARAWell, the city doesn't have regulations protecting us from unfunny stand-up comedians. The city doesn't have a law protecting us from historians who write irresponsible books. The First Amendment protects your right to communicate for a living. And that's true whether you're a journalist or a stand up comedian or a tour guide. People have a right to decide who they want to listen to in this country.

  • 12:31:05

    NNAMDILet's hear what people have to say about this. First, you, Chris.

  • 12:31:10

    CHRISWell, I have to say, I think, he's right. There is no law protecting us from unfunny comedians which I'm glad of. The scariest part of the government licensing who can and can't give a tour is how they get to enforce that. You know, there's a viewpoint that the Civil War was not fought to, you know, free slaves or anything else but rather to subject the South to the rule of the North against their will. That's not a popular view, and it's not one that the federal government likes, you know, being put forward. But it's a valid viewpoint, and if they're deciding what you can and can't say when you're giving a tour of Washington D.C., they can, you know, they can slowly take over. All of a sudden I see scenes from 1984 playing out in my mind.

  • 12:31:50

    NNAMDIOkay, Chris. Thank you very much for your call. We move on to James, who is on Capitol Hill in Washington. James, you're on the air. Go ahead please.

  • 12:31:58

    JAMESYeah, I just wanted to speak in favor of the licensing. I think to -- what the gentleman was just saying before, where people should have, you know, free will to pick whoever they want or that people can do their research and pick whoever they wanted, I think is sort of what he was getting at. People coming to the town -- the town from outside, whether it's from the States or a foreign country, don't have time to do research. I think they see tour guides -- I think they assume that the person is credible and capable of giving a good tour and an accurate tour. And I think if there's no licensing, no sort of baseline, then there's no credibility to that label. Also, I think as the nation's capital, I think there is sort of a obligation to get the stuff right. You know, we can't -- this is the nation's history, this is the nation's capital, and you can't just have people out there sort of spinning tales thinking they're right, maybe, but being wrong and sending people off with bad information about the capital.

  • 12:32:56

    MCNAMARARobert McNamara, some would argue that when you pay money to go see a comedian and he's not funny, you know, going in that he may or may not be funny, you know that you're taking a risk. But when you hire a tour guide, your assumption is that this person knows the -- what he or she is talking about and will be accurate.

  • 12:33:17

    MCNAMARAWell, when you buy a book that recounts the history of our nation's capital, you might also expect the same thing. But we don't let the government have the power to decide who is and is not allowed to publish books. If we're seriously concerned that tourists coming to town might not be able to choose the best qualified tour guide, there's nothing standing in the city's way to implement a voluntary system of tour guide certification where if you passed the city's test, you're allowed to refer to yourself as a city-certified tour guide, and maybe you get a special blue badge you can wear. But that program would still let people coming to town decide, well, I want to listen to a city-certified tour guide, or maybe I don't.

  • 12:33:53

    JAMESWell, what kind of time do people have to make that decision? They're not -- no one has the time to do that kind of research. You fly into the airport, you get to your hotel, and you wake up the next morning and say, I need to pick a tour guide. No one has the time or resources to sort out if this person may be qualified or this person not. They just don't -- this isn't reality.

  • 12:34:11

    MCNAMARAWell, if...

  • 12:34:11

    NNAMDIUnless you're staying in a conscientious hotel, one would assume that the hotel would provide a variety or maybe a list of tour guides that are available and allow you to choose based on the information that's there. But, here is Robert McNamara.

  • 12:34:24

    MCNAMARAAnd there's nothing stopping the city from publishing a list of certified -- city-certified guides and saying, we think these guides are good. We think these are the guides you should listen to. The government is allowed to say, these are the people we like. It's not allowed to say, these are the only people who are allowed to talk about the city. We don't let the government be in the business of deciding who is and isn't allowed to talk about anything, and certainly not something as important as our capital city. They have different opinions about history. They have different opinions about the city. And they have a constitutional right to share those opinions with their fellow citizens.

  • 12:34:55

    NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, James. Robert McNamara is a staff attorney with the Institute for Justice. He represents the owners of a business who are challenging the constitutionality of the District of Columbia's regulations for licensing tour guides. We're interested in hearing your take on that or anything on tours in Washington, D.C., whether you've ever take one, whether you've ever given one, and what's your experience been, 800-433-8850 is the number to call, or you can go to our website,, make a comment or ask a question there. Also joining us in studio is Jim Heegeman, president of The Guild of Professional Tour Guides of Washington, D.C. Jim, it's my understanding that guiding tourists is something that you started in your retirement. How did you get into this business?

  • 12:35:39

    HEEGEMANWell, after I retired, I started volunteering at the National Building Museum, and they had docent training there so I became a docent there. And I enjoyed that, so I decided to become a city guide. Most guides who become city guides train with some organization. I trained with the Northern Virginia Community College. I took a course there. Other people -- one of our affiliates is guide service. A lot of people go through guide service training. And we have another -- one of our guides who also offers training courses. So most guides usually go to some sort of training before they become -- before they take their license even.

  • 12:36:19

    NNAMDIWhat did you learn that you didn't already know in the classes that you took to help you prepare yourself for leading tourists?

  • 12:36:26

    HEEGEMANWell, actually, it was just watching this person when we walked around, watching that person and how they did that, how they explained themselves, how they positioned themselves, because, you know, a lot of people will talk while they're walking and you've got to talk to your audience, and you can't have your back to your audience, or you can't stand with you facing the subject you're -- the item you're talking about, the site that you're talking about. You have to have them facing it so that you have your back to it. Things like that you pick up by going through training at -- there is a correct way to present something.

  • 12:37:03

    NNAMDIOn to the telephones again. Here is Chris in Bethesda, Md. Hi, Chris.

  • 12:37:07

    CHRISHi. I have two comments. First, in Europe, my experience in the U.K. and in France is that tourist licenses are not required except if you are conducting a tour in a museum. So you can do a walking tour just about anywhere you want without a license. And I suspect that's the case in most of Europe and certainly in those two countries, and I think Italy as well when I was there. And second comment is I think, you know, I agree with Mr. McNamara that, you know, people should be able to pick any tour guides they want. You know, licensing does not guarantee that you're gonna get a good tour, and I think it only serves to restrict entry into the market.

  • 12:37:54

    NNAMDIOkay. Care to comment, Robert McNamara?

  • 12:37:57

    MCNAMARAI think that's exactly right. And I especially wanna emphasize the point that licensing doesn't do anything to guarantee you're getting a high-quality tour. Think about what makes a good tour. It's a tour guide who's engaging, who's funny, who has good stories and can really interact with the group. None of that is correlated with your ability to take a hundred-question multiple choice test on a series of arbitrary topics. Really, all the licensing does is to make it more expensive for new people to enter the market.

  • 12:38:21

    CHRISThat's right.

  • 12:38:22

    NNAMDIMy own favorite tour guide is one who took me on a tour of a volcanic area and said, when you see your tour guide running, that's a pretty good indication that the volcano is about to erupt. But thank you very much for your call, Chris. We move on to Florence in Silver Spring, Md. Florence, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:38:40

    FLORENCEI have been a tour guide for over -- just about 30 years. And I could only tell you, would you like to go to a monument or a -- let's go to a monument and say, oh, this was built in the 1900s where it goes back to 18 or whatever. You have to know your facts. You -- and the people will immediately pick up on your knowledge. If you're a good tour guide, you know how to handle it. You know how to handle -- again, through the guild, you learn how to handle problems, how to handle problem tourists, how to handle bus problems, how to tell the bus how to go, what route is better when the roads are clogged. These are important aspects with groups that come in on a bus and you're not sitting on the bus for an hour because the traffic is jammed. If you know your business, you know how to get around and alleviate all these problems. And I could go on about problems forever but we're on the air, so anyway...

  • 12:39:44

    NNAMDIRobert McNamara, Florence is making the basic point that you'd be spending your money badly if you don't get a good licensed tour guide. I suspect you say, let the market work in this case.

  • 12:39:56

    MCNAMARAI think that's a decision consumers should be able to have. But I want to be clear. I think tour guides should be knowledgeable. I think historians should be meticulous. I think radio hosts should have beautiful, sonorous voices. But I don't think that means the government can be in the position of saying you are allowed to speak about this topic and you are not. We don't license people to communicate in this country.

  • 12:40:15

    NNAMDIFlorence, thank you very much for your call. Again, you, too, can call us at 800-433-8850. We're gonna take a short break. When we come back, we will continue this conversation on tour guides and whether or not they should be licensed and exactly what it takes to get a license in Washington, D.C. to be a tour guide. The number is 800-433-8850. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

  • 12:42:18

    NNAMDIWe're talking about tour guides in Washington, D.C. -- how they are licensed, whether they should be licensed, whether there should be a need for them to be licensed, whether it should be a legal requirement for them to be licensed or not -- and taking your calls at 800-433-8850. What do you think? Do you think people who charge money for giving tours should have to be professionally licensed to do so or not? 800-433-8850.

  • 12:42:43

    NNAMDIWe're talking with Jim Heegeman. He is president of The Guild of Professional Tour Guides of Washington, D.C. He joins us in studio along with Robert McNamara. He is a staff attorney with the Institute for Justice. He represents the owners of a business who are challenging the constitutionality of the District of Columbia's regulations for licensing tour guides. Robert, it's my understanding that your organization is involved in several law suits right now involving the general concept of occupational licensing.

  • 12:43:12

    MCNAMARAAbsolutely. This country is in the midst of an explosion of occupational licensing requirements. In the 1950s, only about 5 percent of the workforce needed a special license from the government in order to perform their occupation. Today, that number is over 30 percent. And a lot of these licensing requirements have absolutely nothing to do with the public health or safety. Their licensing requirements to do things as simple as arrange flowers or braid someone's hair or sell a casket. And these...

  • 12:43:39

    NNAMDIYou got rid of the one for braiding someone's hair in Washington, D.C. or the institute did sometime back in, I think, 1993.

  • 12:43:47

    MCNAMARAWe actually did. One of our first cases was representing a traditional African hair braider in Washington, D.C. And at that time, the District's position was that in order to braid hair, you needed to get a cosmetologist license. And the cosmetology license requirements actually hadn't been updated since around the 1950s, so what you had to do to become a cosmetologist in D.C. was essentially prove you were proficient in doing of all these hairstyles that were popular with white women in the '50s. You actually had to make a beehive as I recall.

  • 12:44:14

    MCNAMARAAnd our client, Tale DeNoogda (sp?) just wanted to braid hair in the traditional African style had nothing to do with anything on the cosmetology exam and no cosmetology school was going to teach him this traditional art that he and his wife already knew how to do. And we were lucky enough to get that regulation changed.

  • 12:44:31

    NNAMDISo if none of these -- if most of these occupational licensing regulations that have exploded across the country have nothing to do with consumer protection or safety, well, some people would argue it depends on how you define consumer protection. If we're trying to protect consumers' money, then we define that as consumer protection. What would you say to those?

  • 12:44:55

    MCNAMARAWell, I think the source of most of these regulations are industry insiders who are trying to use the power of government to keep competition out of the marketplace. No one's ever been injured by a bad floral arrangement and yet the state of Louisiana still says that it's illegal to arrange flowers without first obtaining a license. You can't, actually, put roses next to baby's breath without the state's permission. And that's not protecting consumers for many things. That's protecting Louisiana florists from new entrance to the market.

  • 12:45:23

    NNAMDIOn to Shirley in Falls Church, Va. Shirley, your turn. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:45:27

    SHIRLEYThank you. Tourism is an important industry in the D.C. area and I'm wondering if there are some bad tour guides out there, and I suppose there probably are. What would a tourist or a tour group do if they felt that they were having a really bad experience and to know what the difference would be what they would do with licensing and what they might do if there is no licensing?

  • 12:45:56

    NNAMDIIf a tour group, Jim Heegeman, feels it's having a really bad tour experience with a licensed tour operator who -- well, for the sake of argument -- happens to be a member of your guild, what should that person do?

  • 12:46:09

    HEEGEMANWell, most of them have paid their money to a tour operator, and that tour operator, he'll get feedback on the quality of the tour guide. And of course he won't use that tour guide again. So he starts losing out on business, and he no longer gets business as a tour guide. So that's one way it happens.

  • 12:46:33

    NNAMDIWell, some would argue that that would be the same thing that would happen even if the tour guide were unlicensed, that the tour operator would simply not use that tour guide anymore. So they would say it doesn't really make a difference whether the tour guide is licensed or not.

  • 12:46:47

    HEEGEMANWell, like, we -- I didn't mention, but we have different groups -- we have different categories of membership. Not only do we have tour guides, but we have what's called affiliates, and affiliates are tour companies who hire tour guides. So they know who the guild guides are, and they can -- they know who can -- who does a good job, who doesn't do a good job. You develop a reputation within the community. So you get the jobs, and the people who are not performing well do not get jobs.

  • 12:47:17

    NNAMDIRobert McNamara, care to respond to Shirley's question?

  • 12:47:19

    MCNAMARAI think Jim's exactly right that that's what happens and that's what should happen when people give bad tours. And I just like to point out that nothing in Jim's answer requires the government to have the power to throw people in jail for three months for unauthorized talking.

  • 12:47:31

    NNAMDIWell, Jim, how do you feel about the idea of it being a crime to offer paid guided tours without a license, people can be thrown in jail, as Robert says, for 90 days?

  • 12:47:41

    HEEGEMANWell, (laugh) I don't know. The chances of being caught by the district government for not having a tour license are almost slim and none.

  • 12:47:53

    NNAMDITwo chances, slim and none. (laugh)

  • 12:47:54

    HEEGEMANRight. It's -- they just do not have that many enforcement personnel. Now, of course, there always is that possibility that you will be caught. But -- and I suspect very strongly that if you were caught, the chances of being thrown in jail are probably...

  • 12:48:10

    NNAMDIQuite a few people want to weigh in on this issue. So let's start with Desiree in Vienna, Va. You're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:48:18

    DESIREEHi. Thanks for taking my call. Yeah. I have to say that, as someone who has been on a really lousy tour, I do agree with Mr. McNamara that (laugh) the government shouldn't control what people are saying, even though I have wasted hundreds of dollars on a really bad tour. (laugh) But I was wondering how many other cities license their tour guides.

  • 12:48:43

    NNAMDIJim Heegeman, any idea? We talked about an international guild in the U.S.

  • 12:48:47

    HEEGEMANNew Orleans, New York, Philadelphia, I guess.

  • 12:48:52

    NNAMDIAmong largest cities.

  • 12:48:53


  • 12:48:54

    NNAMDIYou don't know how widespread it is among cities in general, do you?

  • 12:48:57

    HEEGEMANWell, there are -- there's a national organization of tourist guide associations, and they have 17.

  • 12:49:03

    NNAMDISeventeen affiliates.

  • 12:49:04


  • 12:49:04

    NNAMDIThat doesn't sound like an explosion in this particular industry, Robert McNamara, but it's obviously spreading.

  • 12:49:10

    MCNAMARAIt is obviously spreading. There are only about half a dozen jurisdictions in the United States that have laws like Washington, D.C.'s. So they punish people for unauthorized talking. New York and New Orleans are among them. Philadelphia, actually, passed a tour guide licensing law in 2008 to which the Institute for Justice responded with a lawsuit, and we've so far been successful in preventing Philadelphia from actually enforcing that ordinance.

  • 12:49:33

    NNAMDIThank you for your call, Desiree. Here's Mary in Silver Spring, Md. Mary, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:49:39

    MARYHello. Hi, Kojo. Thank you so much for your show every day and thank you for taking my call.

  • 12:49:44

    NNAMDIYou're welcome.

  • 12:49:45

    MARYI would like to respond to an earlier caller who said that people just don't have the time to look into the tour companies that they hire. And my counterargument would be that if they really can't take their, you know, PDA out of their pocket and Google in best tour guide in D.C., that maybe it's really not important enough to license. And then maybe to follow on that, Mr. McNamara, could you briefly speak to -- I think it was last year in the D.C. area, there was a controversy about licensing teachers of yoga, which, some would argue, is actually a spiritual transmission of knowledge, to license them to be able to teach yoga and to see if there's any similarities between the two cases.

  • 12:50:28

    NNAMDIRobert McNamara?

  • 12:50:29

    MCNAMARAI actually can speak directly to the yoga teacher licensing controversy because that was a lawsuit filed by my organization, the Institute for Justice. The State of Virginia plan to require people who taught people how to teach yoga to obtain a license from the state. The state was going to review their curricula and impose massive costly requirements on all of them for just communicating about this spiritual tradition. We were successful in that lawsuit. The State of Virginia actually repealed the relevant portion of that law, but I think it's a very similar principle, that in this country you're allowed to communicate for a living. And that's true if you're talking about yoga, and that's true if you're talking about the Washington Monument.

  • 12:51:06

    NNAMDIMary, thank you very much for your call.

  • 12:51:08

    MARYThank you.

  • 12:51:09

    NNAMDICan it be taken to this extreme, in your view, Robert McNamara, this e-mail we got from Jerry in Arlington? "Maybe they should make sure that sandwich makers in Virginia need to receive a license before practicing their craft. My sandwich artist at Subway just butchered my Footlong Club on hardy Italian bread in a way that can only be described as criminal." (laugh)

  • 12:51:31

    MCNAMARA(laugh) You know, it's obviously meant as a joke, but I think there's a kernel of truth in that, that with this explosion of occupational licensing, it's -- we're increasingly getting to the point where there's nothing, nothing at all what the government thinks you should be allowed to do without first getting its permission. And as we're seeing today, that apparently includes described things. It includes arranged flowers. It includes all of these simple tasks that we just don't need extra government barriers to entry it for.

  • 12:51:54

    NNAMDIHere's Gabriel in Alexandria, Va. Gabriel, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:51:58

    GABRIELYeah. Hi. Thank you very much for taking my call. I -- you know, I can see both of this issue, and I think it's really important to recognize a couple of things. One, licensing is a bare minimum standard. You know, when I got my driver's license when I was 16, that didn't magically imbue with all the knowledge I have about trying -- driving in 36. In fact, it took a number of accidents and wrong steps and, you know, dents to my parents' -- well...

  • 12:52:19

    NNAMDIDriving the wrong way through tunnels, yeah. Go ahead.

  • 12:52:21

    GABRIELYeah. But so the point is that, you know, just because there's a license in, doesn't mean it's gonna be great. But there needs to be a bare minimum standard. And the problem is, I've taken Segway Tours in D.C. and had horrible tours, horrible tours where I actually am correcting the guide. I'm like, no, that's not the Department of Energy, that's the Department of Commerce. Like, no, that's not the House, that's the Senate. Basic bare minimum things these guys should know. So there is a viable argument for consumer protection. And I do think it's important to recognize that. But I also think the scare tactic that, you know, the police could arrest somebody for describing to their family the tour, that's a little bit of a red herring. Wouldn't you have to agree, I mean, you are...

  • 12:52:58

    NNAMDIOh, no. Only if your family is paying you. Only if you are being paid can you be arrested. Not simply for...

  • 12:53:03


  • 12:53:03

    NNAMDI...describing things.

  • 12:53:04

    GABRIELBut your guest went off by saying you could be arrested for describing a monument to your family.

  • 12:53:10

    NNAMDIAh. Well, I'll have him respond to that. Robert McNamara.

  • 12:53:13

    MCNAMARAI'm pretty sure I didn't say that. And I didn't mean to say that. Kojo is absolutely right that this only applies to people who are paying -- if you're describing things to paying customers. But I don't think that makes a difference at all to whether it's protected speech. The Washington Post isn't distributed for free. People sell the Bible every day. That doesn't mean that those aren't protected speech, just like a speech you're paid to give about the Washington monument is protected speech.

  • 12:53:36

    NNAMDIHow about the argument that there should be a minimum standard Gabriel says?

  • 12:53:41

    MCNAMARAGabriel says he's been on bad tours, and I'm quite sure he has. I've read some terrible novels in my day. But we don't rely on the government to silence people in order to protect people from hearing bad things. That's not the role of the government in this country.

  • 12:53:52

    NNAMDII'm glad you mentioned novel. Gabriel -- and, Gabriel, thank you for your call. I'm glad you've mentioned novel, Robert, because, Jim, we've heard a lot about how enterprising individuals were launching Dan Brown tours of Washington, D.C. when he came out with his latest book "The Lost Symbol." People want to see landmarks from his fictional world. As someone who appreciates history, how do you feel about the popularity of tours that are based on complete fiction?

  • 12:54:17

    HEEGEMANWell, of course, some of the things in there are obviously wrong. And -- so you can't point out some things, and you couldn't point out some things that the National Archives that -- from that movie either. So there's a lot of things you have to correct people when you -- they get here and they are looking for this or looking for that, and it's just not there.

  • 12:54:37

    NNAMDIHere's -- this we got from Melissa in Takoma Park. "I swear by using the audio devices, if they're available, whenever I'm taking a tour of anywhere. I recently went to Italy with my mother. We rented the audio devices almost everywhere we went. We got to go at our own speed and we knew that the information coming to us through the headsets was prepared by a real pro. We took a tour guided by an actual person when we went to the Coliseum, and it was the only bad tour we went on the entire time." Care to comment on that, Jim?

  • 12:55:05

    HEEGEMANAbsolutely. There are bad tour guides. There's no doubt about it. But that's the way it goes.

  • 12:55:12

    NNAMDIHow do you feel about the audio tools where people can walk at their own speed?

  • 12:55:16

    HEEGEMANIt's coming in. There are people who do that. And it's there -- you know, they can look at art museums, you can look at -- take of this -- you can do it with your cell phone. So there's all sorts of things coming in.

  • 12:55:28

    NNAMDIHere is Rachelle in Gaithersburg, Md. Rachelle, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:55:33

    RACHELLEHi, Kojo. I wanted to say -- and I almost didn't give my name because I work for an organization that brings kids to D.C. and (word?)

  • 12:55:41

    NNAMDIAnd you're afraid you might be a criminal. But go ahead.

  • 12:55:43

    RACHELLEI know. (laugh) I mean, does that count? I take kids around. And in the course of educating them about civics and history and our values, I say, hey, that's the monument. I mean, they're paying to go on my program. Does that make me a criminal? And I'm flabbergasted that -- I'm fully behind the idea of licensed tour guides. And I will agree with the caller earlier who said, I've had a licensed tour guide than others, but I've never taken a formal tour in D.C. But in other cities, I've had licensed tour guides who have been awful and who have not shown me anything of value. And I had a lot more -- I've gotten a lot more out of tours where it's been my friend who had some interesting stories to tell about the community.

  • 12:56:31


  • 12:56:31

    RACHELLEI'm flabbergasted.

  • 12:56:31

    NNAMDI...Robert. Is she a criminal, Robert?

  • 12:56:34

    MCNAMARADepending on the circumstances. She very well might be if she's being paid to describe things. The way the law -- the way the regulations are actually written, if you're paid to take people around town and you talk about the New York Yankees the whole time, you're fine. If you're paid to take people around town and you actually talk about things in D.C., you are a criminal, and you can go to jail. So I mean, it would depend on exactly what her circumstances are, but it's certainly possible. And I think she's exactly right that licensing tour guides doesn't really have anything to do with the quality of the tour, the quality of the guide and the quality of the stories you get.

  • 12:57:05

    NNAMDILast call from Dusty. Thank you for your call, Rachelle. Dusty, we're almost out of time. Please make your comment brief.

  • 12:57:12

    DUSTYOkay. My husband is in the military, so I know that there are Americans who don't enjoy the same rights as civilians. I don't think this is an issue of good tour guides or bad tour guides. I think it's an issue of free speech. And it sets a bad precedent to limit that speech.

  • 12:57:33

    NNAMDIJim Heegeman is retired military, are you not?

  • 12:57:35


  • 12:57:36

    NNAMDIAnd Jim Heegeman became a tour guide after he retired. I'm afraid we're about out of time. Jim Heegeman is now president of The Guild of Professional Tour Guides of Washington, D.C. Thank you very much for joining us.

  • 12:57:46

    HEEGEMANThank you for having me.

  • 12:57:47

    NNAMDIRobert McNamara is a staff attorney with the Institute for Justice. He represents the owners of a business who are challenging the constitutionality of the District of Columbia's regulations for licensing tour guides. What's the time frame for this challenge?

  • 12:58:00

    MCNAMARAWe filed the lawsuit just a little bit ago. And the next of couple of weeks, we're going to be asking the court for a preliminary injunction preventing D.C. from enforcing these laws against people who talk for a living.

  • 12:58:09

    NNAMDIWell, we'll stay abreast of it and tell you how it all comes out. Robert McNamara, thank you for joining us.

  • 12:58:14

    MCNAMARAThanks very much for having me.

  • 12:58:15

    NNAMDIAnd thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

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