Beaufort News

Carriage operators skeptical of proposed tour changes

A Southurn Rose carriage takes a tour around downtown Beaufort Monday afternoon. Beaufort is proposing a set of changes for laws governing tours  in the downtown. Two carriage companies will still be allowed, and officials are set to enact a points system for infractions and time changes.
A Southurn Rose carriage takes a tour around downtown Beaufort Monday afternoon. Beaufort is proposing a set of changes for laws governing tours in the downtown. Two carriage companies will still be allowed, and officials are set to enact a points system for infractions and time changes. Jonathan Dyer, The Beaufort Gazette

Proposed changes to tour operations in Beaufort won't stop the long-standing "carriage wars" or improve tourism, buggy operators contend.

"There's really no changes that are going to help," said Rose White of Southurn Rose Buggy Tours. "Yes, there's a point system that will punish companies if they are convicted of something, but it is still one word against the other."

The Tourism Management Advisory Committee's proposed changes to the 38-page ordinance governing tour operations met opposition from company owners at a City Council meeting last week. Council approved the first reading, but the ordinance must be approved a second time to take effect.

The committee solicited input from the tour companies for the proposed changes, its chairwoman, Heather Winch, said.

Most of the concern is with a three-strike point system for tracking ordinance violations. Companies or tour guides that break three rules and are found guilty within a year must cease operations. White called it a "tattle-tale" system, because the owners are asked to report infractions.

"Any ordinance if it's not enforced, it's not worth the paper it's written on," said Walter Gay, owner of Sea Island Carriage Co. "... I'm in favor of the point system, but I think it's too stringent. It doesn't take but a very little bit for a person to go out of business, when you've invested a tremendous amount of money and effort."

The ordinance would also allow an increase in the number of tour companies downtown.

"I've got a tremendous amount of friends on The Point, and they say, 'Walter, every time we look out the window, there's a tour going by,' " Gay said. "The way it is now -- with three walking tour companies, two bus companies and two carriage companies -- tours are going to be going by a house in The Point every nine to 10 minutes."

With six walking tour, four bus tour and two carriage tour companies -- as the proposed ordinance would allow -- that would be more like every five or six minutes, he said.

"There's just not enough money to go around. The City Council is not looking at the economy," Gay said.

White and her husband, Peter, continue to believe it would be better to have only one carriage operator in the city, whether or not they are it. They are also upset bus tour companies do not have to bid for work, as carriage companies do.

The contracts between the city and carriage companies expire later this year. Each company pays about $26,000 annually, plus a business license fee.

Tour companies will also need to start submitting reports on their operations. The tourism committee currently does not have information on how many tours are going out and how many people are taking them.

"We're interested in what is the impact on tourism and tour vehicles," Winch said.

Other highlights of the proposed ordinance changes are as follows:

  • At least once every three years, all tour guides will go through a surprise audit to check the accuracy of their presentations.
  • The rule requiring a three-block minimum distance between tours will be enforced more strictly for buses and carriages.
  • Electric vehicles will be permitted.
  • All tour companies, except large-vehicle operators, must submit quarterly reports on the number of tours and customers.
  • Related content

    1. Beaufort City Council continues tourism talks
    2. Tourism-reform process not open enough, carriage companies say
      Comments