Ambush recently had the opportunity to sit down and chat with local tourism expert Frank Perez about the current state of tourism in New Orleans, the quality of tour guides, and the Professional Tour Guiding courses he teaches at Loyola University.
Q: How did you get involved in the tourism industry?
FP: Years ago I was a concierge at a hotel in the CBD. A big part of that job was selling tours. After a few years of doing that, I decided to open my own tour booking agency. I started the Crescent City Tour Booking Agency in 2012 and it’s still going strong eight years later. Because we book almost every type of tour in New Orleans and because there are so many tour operators in the city, I’ve had the opportunity to meet a lot of people in the industry as well as experience a wide variety of tours.
Q: A lot of locals, especially those who live in the French Quarter, have had bad experiences with tour guides, especially at night.
FP: I would consider myself one of those people. I live and operate a storefront in the Quarter and have encountered ill-informed and/or rude guides on numerous occasions.
FP: Yes. By rude, I mean guides who block sidewalks and entrances to business, who let their guests sit on stoops and lean on buildings, or who narrate too loudly.
Q: Aren’t there regulations against those things?
FP: Yes and no. The city has a few rules regarding walking tour groups, but they are not routinely enforced. The most common violations are having more than 28 people on a tour, groups staying at least 50 feet away from each other, and conducting tours after 10:00pm. Some tour companies are better than others about sticking to those rules, but a lot of tour operators and guides either don’t care or don’t know about the rules. It really comes down to companies setting values and properly training their guides.
Q: 28 people on a tour seems like a lot.
FP: It is a lot, especially in the French Quarter or in St. Louis Cemetery #1.
Q: These are all logistical issues. What about content? It seems a lot of guides pull “facts” and stories out of thin air.
FP: Indeed they do. Some guides would be excellent fiction writers. Unfortunately, there is no way to effectively police that sort of thing. One of the things I stress in my classes at Loyola is that New Orleans history is so fascinating, there is no need to make things up.
Q: Tell us about the courses you teach at Loyola. Are they just for tour guides?
FP: No, not at all. Professional Tour Guiding is obviously designed for people who want to become tour guides, but a lot of folks who have no interest in becoming tour guides take the course for the history. I also teach a course on French Quarter history and one on Research Methodology.
Q: So is the Professional Tour Guiding course primarily just history?
FP: Yes, there is a lot of history, but it also contains a lot of “nuts and bolts” information regarding being a licensed tour guide in New Orleans—the “ins and outs” of the industry, if you will. Currently, anyone can apply with the city to become a tour guide. If applicants pass a federal background check and pass a test the city offers, they can get a license. The city will accept the results of the exam I give at the end of my course.
Q: I didn’t realize it was so easy to become a tour guide.
FP: It’s almost too easy. That is why there are, unfortunately, so many bad guides on the streets.
Q: Are the class sessions all lecture format?
FP: No. 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, Save Our Cemeteries, the National WWII Museum, the Friends of the Cabildo, various tour operators, an authentic Voodoo Priest, an expert on Native Americans, and a representative of the Opera Guild. And there are two field trips in the form of walking tours of the Garden District and the French Quarter. As I mentioned, students also have the option to take the Tour Guide Permit exam for the City of New Orleans on the last night of class.
Q: The French Quarter History class sounds really fun.
FP: It is. That class has no assignments and no test—just a lot of great information and stories about the Quarter. Tour guides would certainly benefit from it, but anyone who loves the Quarter would enjoy it.
Q: What do you focus on in the French Quarter class?
FP: Everything! Including the neighborhood’s underbelly. Sure we talk about architecture and demographics and the artistic and literary heritage of the neighborhood—the “serious stuff”— but we also dive into drinking culture, the Mafia, sex work, how Bourbon Street became Bourbon Street, and a lengthy section on eccentric characters! And all of the above, of course, feature a lot of LGBT+ history.
Q: Honestly, that sounds more exciting than Research Methodology.
FP: I suppose so, but here’s the draw of the research class—students get to select a topic in which they are personally interested and then do a deep dive into that topic. Each week I bring in representatives from various area institutions to assist students in their own research. It’s sort of like a workshop each week.
Q: What are some of the institutions who come to the class?
FP: The Historic New Orleans Collection, The Louisiana State Museum, Amistad Research Center, the Notarial Archives, the Catholic Archdiocese Archives, Special Collection Division of Tulane, the New Orleans Public Library, the Newcomb College Archives, and others.
Q: How can potential students learn more about these courses?
FP: They can go to https://pacs.loyno.edu/individual-courses Each course meets once a week in the evenings and are all non-credit. All three begin the week after Mardi Gras. Registration is now open.
In addition to being a long-time licensed tour guide, Perez is a member of the New Orleans Sustainable Tourism Task Force, a volunteer with the Friends of the Cabildo tour guide training program, the owner of a tour booking agency, and the author of Treasures of the Vieux Carre: Ten Self-Guided Walking Tours of the French Quarter.