Pardon my French, but a lot of tour guides in New Orleans are full of shit. Those guides have never taken my Professional Tour Guiding classes.
If you’ve ever spent any time walking the French Quarter or sitting outside a bar there, you already know. I hear it all the time when I’m sitting on my balcony. It never ceases to amaze me to learn of all the celebrities who’ve lived in my building: Elvis, Neil Armstrong, Elizabeth Taylor, John F. Kennedy, and a dozen others. And that doesn’t include all the ghosts and vampires.
Sometimes tour guides are on the right track, but get basic details wrong, which is frustrating but not nearly as egregious as the tour guides who fabricate completely false stories out of thin air. These guides would do better as fiction writers, which is sad because, in New Orleans, truth is often stranger than fiction.
And then there are the guides whose stories may be accurate but have no respect for the neighborhood. These are the guides who block sidewalks and business entrances, scream at the top of their lungs, and allow their guests to sit on stoops and lean against residents’ homes.
In my opinion, it’s far too easy to become a tour guide in New Orleans. At present, a person who has never set foot in New Orleans could move here from Des Moines and be on the streets giving tours in less than a month. Sure, they have to pass a background check and take a written test, but that’s it. And the test has been circulating on the internet for years.
For those who are truly serious and really want to learn not only about the city’s history but also about the logistics of tour-guiding and the mechanics of the industry, potential guides have the option of enrolling in one of three classes I developed for Loyola University.
The first class is Professional Tour Guiding: History of New Orleans. The city accepts the results of the final exam of the class for those wanting a tour guide license. Whether you are preparing to take the New Orleans Tour Guide Permit exam or just want to learn more about your favorite city, this course has something for you. Gain skills in the tourism industry and knowledge about the City of New Orleans.
Students participate in eleven classroom sessions and two field trips that are guided walking tours of the city. Classroom sessions consist of instructor lectures, guest speakers, and student presentations. Previous guest speakers have included representatives from the Tour Guides Association of Greater New Orleans, an authentic Voodoo priest, experts on indigenous Native culture, legal scholars on Napoleonic law, musicians, chefs, and bartenders. Students also have the option to take the City of New Orleans’ Tour Guide Permit exam on the last night of class. The course costs $349 and classes begin May 3.
The second course focuses on Research and Story-Telling. This course is for new and seasoned tour guides, as well as anyone interested in research and storytelling techniques. Students learn techniques and resources to enhance research and storytelling skills and build better tours. Class sessions will consist of lectures, workshops, and guest speaker presentations from research facilities such as The Historic New Orleans Collection, Louisiana Research Collection, New Orleans Public Library, Louisiana State Museum, and Amistad Research Center. Students choose one subject to investigate and give weekly reports in class about as they hone their storytelling technique. The last class meeting is a field trip with guided walking tour. Cost is $195 and classes begin on May 4.
The third class is History of the French Quarter. This course focuses on the history of the French Quarter as both the original city of New Orleans and its shifting role as the city’s flagship neighborhood. While the French, Spanish, and early American periods are covered, the emphasis of the course is on 20th century history. Topics include, but are not limited to, architecture, historical preservation, colorful characters, the rise of tourism, literature and arts, drinking culture, crime and vice, and LGBT+ history. The last class meeting is a tour of the French Quarter. Tuition for the course is $245 and classes begin on June 29.
For those not interested in becoming licensed tour guides, these three courses are a great way to learn more about New Orleans in a fun, low-pressure environment. They are offered at Loyola University as non-credit courses, and meet once a week in the evening. Registration is now open for all three classes. Visit frenchquarterfrank.com for more information.