- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 27, 2007

PHILADELPHIA (AP) - Tour guides will show you this historic city on foot, trolley or double-decker bus, in a horse-drawn carriage, while riding a Segway or even as you blow a kazoo on a boat with wheels.

But can you believe what they say?

That is a concern of some Philadelphia hospitality officials, who worry that the city’s most valuable asset its history is being tarnished by unreliable tour guides who mix up dates and spice up biographies of Founding Fathers such as Benjamin Franklin and George Washington. The issue has sparked debate and a proposed ordinance to test and license guides.

“Bring it on,” said Jill Lawrence, a Colonial re-enactor who supports the idea. She said many of her interactions with tourists include correcting misinformation they have heard elsewhere such as that flag creator Betsy Ross, a three-time widow, killed her husbands. Not true.

“These are things we hear over and over,” she said. “It would be terrific if we didn’t have to correct these rumors all day long.”

Because history and tourism are such big business in Philadelphia, it is important to have guides people can trust, said Meryl Levitz, president and chief executive officer of the Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corp. The Liberty Bell alone had 1.8 million visitors last year, and tourism in the region generated $10 billion, she said.

If the ordinance is approved, Philadelphia would join several cities with similar regulations, including Washington, New Orleans and Charleston, S.C. Would-be tour guides in Williamsburg must pass a multiple-choice test that includes general Colonial history and Williamsburg history. Licenses cost $100 and are good for three years.

The Philadelphia bill was introduced this spring by City Council member Blondell Reynolds Brown. She had been contacted by Ron Avery, a former Philadelphia Daily News reporter and part-time guide who had compiled a list of what he said were myths and half-truths uttered on local tours.

Among the mistakes: Franklin had 69 illegitimate children, and homes were taxed based on how wide they were.

“Once it gets started, it just takes on a life of its own,” Mr. Avery said.

Those who oppose Mrs. Brown’s bill say that any errors people hear are likely the result of guides misspeaking during long days of multiple tours and that licensing would simply be a financial burden and bureaucratic waste of time.

Jonathan Bari, whose company offers the Constitutional Walking Tour of Philadelphia, said licensing costs likely would be passed on to visitors and still won’t guarantee error-free tours.

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