Fraser Forum

Unregulated tour operators—anarchy in Quebec City streets

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Thanks to a timely collusion of special interest groups, disaster has recently been averted in the arts, culture and history industry in Quebec City. The capital city was going to reduce red tape and regulation, but key players stepped in and ensured that those barriers were necessary to protect the consumer (at the cost of freedom, innovation and, well, better business practice). Careening down that road to cultural anarchy was just too dangerous.

The issue at stake is whether or not tour guides in Quebec City should be required by law to take a course from an accredited CEGEP (or Junior College) in order to be issued a tour guide’s license. Until December 2015, this licence was mandatory, and involved 150 hours of course work and $800 in fees ($1,500 if you took the course online). The rationale for abolishing the mandatory certification was that the time, inconvenience and cost of the course encouraged some tour operators to simply drop Quebec City from their itineraries. As a result, city council did the right thing and scrapped the regulation, a nudge towards freedom and good business practice.

Shortly after the ink dried on the news release, key players circled the wagons. Marie Legroulx, president of the Quebec City Professional Tour Guides Association, complained that you couldn’t have just anyone lead a tour. In a highly unexpected display of commonsense, one CBC interviewer asked Legroulx what the worst-case scenario might be if a non-accredited tour guide was allowed onto the streets.

Legroulx seemed baffled. There might be wrong information about Quebec’s art and architecture disseminated to unsuspecting visitors. Tourists might be subjected to misrepresentations of iconic figures, history may be maligned (one’s mind wanders, imagining a mansard roof confused with a gambrel, Wolfe and Montcalm mixed up, perhaps even unsavory and regrettable historical details about the Plains of Abraham).

Legroulx was incensed that this repeal of the regulation was undertaken without consulting those involved. As she said in her interview with the CBC, “If a decision is going to be made, at least consult everybody who has something to do with it.” Er, like the tour operators?

Not surprisingly, the head of the college that offers the courses seconded Legroulx’s opinion. This change will mean a drop in revenue for the college.

And what about all those people who have taken the course in the past? If we abolish the certification process now (so the argument goes), it would hardly be fair to them. By this logic, the continued support of any past misguided practice (high taxes, wage and price controls, burning of witches) could be justified as it would be unfair to past generations to abolish the practice.

Now, bowing to special interest group pressure, the Quebec City Council has reversed its decision for the 2016 year, with a view to formulating long-term policy after holding “consultations with stakeholders.” Isn’t the largest stakeholder the consumer?

There are numerous examples of how industries can maintain quality through self-regulation (not government accreditation or certification). Underwriter’s Laboratories stamps electric appliances with their time-honoured UL certification. Online retailers and brokerage sites (Amazon, eBay) provide instant and easy-to-navigate customer satisfaction information. Airbnb and Uber are revolutionizing the hotel and taxi industries through creative online brokerage services. One of the key elements to these industries is the ease with which customers can share reviews of services across a number of important fields (i.e. communication, cleanliness, punctuality, accuracy, value. etc.).

Repeatedly we are told that government must accredit, license and control the interaction amongst capable and rational adults. The success of market-oriented alternatives proves that this is simply not the case, even in the arts and culture industries.


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