Salem resident. candidate for Ward 2 City Councilor
Salem’s tourism industry is an engine of our local economy and tours are often visitors’ first point of entry to our city. The proposal to amend the Ordinance Relative to Public Guides highlights some unintended consequences of the industry’s success. I cannot overstate the value that tourism brings to our city, but we must take steps to ensure the industry’s continuing prosperity is not at the expense of our residents’ quality of life.
The amendments would rightly prohibit certain activities in the interest of public safety and protection of our historic sites. Specifically, candles and flames will be banned on tours, voice amplification devices would be prohibited in residential areas around the Howard Street Cemetery, and Proctor’s Ledge would be off limits to tours. However, the proposal to cap tour group size, motivated by residents’ complaints of clogged sidewalks, is driving the bulk of the conversation around the amendment.
There is little that I remember from the guided tour I took when I first visited Salem as a tourist: We learned that Giles Corey was pressed to death, the Witch Trials Memorial is a solemn place for reflection, and locals have mixed opinions about the Bewitched statue at Lappin Park. By the fourth or fifth stop, I found myself in the back of the pack of at least 30 people, missing much of the tour guide’s narrative.
This leads me to wonder whether large groups diminish the experience of the tour. Further, would there be a need for voice amplification devices if groups were smaller? In fact, in conversations I have had with local guides, many prefer to keep their groups small and intimate.
Group sizes should be limited, benefiting the safety of residents and visitors alike. As a downtown resident who walks everywhere (often with a toddler in tow), I encounter tour groups frequently and have occasionally been obstructed. In my experience, guides have always been courteous and ask the group to clear the way. However, in cases where the sidewalks are narrow, larger groups must spill into the street in the way of vehicular traffic.
While I generally support the proposed amendments, enforceability will be key when outside tour operators and guides do not follow our policies. It is critically important that local tour operators and city government continue the collaborative relationship and dialogue they have long enjoyed.
Spellbound Tours owner, Salem Tour Association board member
Walking tours are the lifeblood of Salem. The travel website TripAdvisor lists walking tours as the most popular of all things to do in the Witch City. Having worked in the Salem tourism industry for 25 years, I agree. Salem tour guides are more than entertainers; we are cultural ambassadors for this great city. Our guests may be attracted by the ghoulish and macabre ghost stories, but they leave with an appreciation of all Salem has to offer. We discuss history and folklore, but just as important, our guests want to know where to eat, what to see, and what shops to visit.
The proposed new tour guide rules are completely unnecessary because the city already has regulations to ensure tours are conducted properly. All guides must obtain a license, pass a criminal background check, and score well on an extensive local history test, as well as be able to give directions. The rules also cover how late we can be on the streets, and where we can use amplification.
The Salem Tour Association, which represents most local tour operators, has a code of conduct that ensures we follow the city regulations and maintain professional courtesy on the streets. As a Salem resident and a tour owner, I respect the rules because I want to see Salem thrive. The other tour people feel the same. New regulations would mean fewer people get to enjoy our tours and come to love the city as we do.
Downtown residents are far more likely to be disturbed by noise when the bars let out later than from our tours! The only times I have witnessed any problems with tour groups involved out-of-town tour bus companies who do not take time to learn the rules.
Our organization has also become active in historic preservation. Tour guides help clean the city’s historic cemeteries and shovel snow from the Witch Trials Memorial.
Visitors have been part of the city’s fabric since as far back as 1697, when the Rev. John Hale wrote of people coming to see where the infamous Witch Trials occurred.
Salem’s tour guides contribute to the city’s robust tourist industry by bringing in guests who spend money in shops and restaurants. Take away the tours, and the visitors vanish. We look forward to working with the city and growing Salem into an even greater destination!
Yes: 86.36% (19 votes)
No: 13.64% (3 votes)
As told to Globe correspondent John Laidler. He can be reached at email@example.com.