Since Charleston shifted its tour guide testing from "mandatory" to "voluntary," keeping track of who is giving tours has become more complicated.
The change was prompted when U.S. District Court Judge David Norton ruled in August that Charleston's mandatory tour guide testing policy violated free speech rights.
A business license is still required to give tours, but the licensing office does not make note of whether a person is a certified guide. A license may also be under a corporate name, not an individual's name, and that business may legally hire guides that have not passed the city's exam.
Since the change was made, seven business licenses to operate tours have been issued, according to city records. In total, 214 of the licenses have been issued so far this year. Of those, the city said 191 are owned by a certified tour guide. For the remaining businesses, it's unclear if they are being staffed or operated by certified guides.
Under the voluntary system, the hiring decisions of tour operators largely determine the test's relevance for guides. After the change was made, several of the city's carriage and tour operators quickly announced that they would still require their guides to be certified.
Savannah recently transitioned to a voluntary certification system after being challenged by the Institute of Justice, the same group that sued Charleston. The city disbanded its test in 2015, but later released an updated guide and rewritten test for its voluntary certification program. A list of certified Savannah tour guides is now displayed online.
Charleston is somewhat unique in that it hasn't withdrawn its case. The city filed a motion in September asking Norton to reconsider his decision. That commitment to the testing program is, in part, because of the city's "fierce protection of its brand," said Bob Seidler, chair of the city's tourism commission. Since tour guides are a large part of the face-to-face interaction visitors have with that brand, he said, the industry has been keenly dialed into the issue.
For now, the voluntary licensing program will continue indefinitely.
The city is in the process of issuing new badges to certified tour guides. The badges will be valid for three years from the exam date and, for the first time, include photos. Explore Charleston, the marketing arm of the city's visitor industry, is also brainstorming ways to recognize Charleston's certified guides, Seidler said.
'Under Siege' on display
The story of Charleston's role in the Civil War is now on new and expanded display in the Charleston Museum. The renovated permanent exhibit, "City Under Siege: Charleston in the Civil War," starts with secession — the table and chairs used in drafting the Ordinance of Secession are featured — and goes through the narrative of the war and its aftermath.
Artifacts include personal possessions owned by Charleston families during the war and a receipt documenting the death of an enslaved person who died working on Confederate fortifications on Sullivan’s Island.
Last year, the museum unveiled its fully renovated Bunting Natural History Gallery. At 4,000 square feet, the gallery is the museum's largest and provides a visual chronology of the Lowcountry's environment and wildlife.
Another hotel near Summerville's growing Nexton community is now open.
The new Residence Inn by Marriott at 1528 North Main St. in Summerville celebrated its grand opening last week. The hotel is the first of its style and format for the brand and caters to long-stay guests. Concierge services are available, including personal grocery shopping, and every room comes with a full kitchen and living area.
With its proximity to industrial growth, developers hope the hotel will host long-term business travelers and people relocating to the Summerville area.
The hotel is part of a cluster of businesses springing up around Nexton, which is expected to have about 6,500 homes. Last month, construction on a dual-flagged Hilton Garden Inn and Homewood Suites began nearby. The 6.1-acre property, developed by Lowcountry Hotels, will also house a convention center.