Charleston sightseeing operators adapt to rules

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CHARLESTON, S.C. -- Owners of walking, carriage and bus sightseeing companies here plan to make operational changes due to restrictions on how they do business in residential neighborhoods.

The City Council in September voted to curb the hours the companies operate in Charleston's historic district.

The city also will allow fewer people in walking tour groups and fewer large buses in the residential district.

The city's Office of Tourism Management will take a gradual approach in its enforcement of the new rules, said Vanessa Turner-Maybank, tourism director and city clerk. Turner-Maybank said the city will hire two more full-time tourism enforcement officers; currently there are three full-time and six part-time officers.

The amendments limit the number of people in walking tours to no more than 20 and reduce the number of large buses touring at one time from eight to six. They also reduce the hours that tours can operate in residential neighborhoods to 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., or 5 p.m, Eastern Standard Time. Previously, tours could operate from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.

The amendments stemmed from a 16-month-long effort that studied the impact of tourism on the quality of life in the residential neighborhoods.

"It's not a major change to the way the tours operate -- people can still tour the residential areas. In fact, I think the changes will improve the quality of the tours," said Turner-Maybank.

Linda Wohlfeil, a fifth-generation Charlestonian and owner of Absolutely Charleston, a walking tour company, said the changes would affect her business "minimally" because she's made changes to conform to the new rules. "The tour companies can always work around the rules and regulations by timing things differently. I can do a tour of the commercial district and still get in all of the city's history and charm," Wohlfeil said.

Despite her business' ability to cope with the changes, Wohlfeil decried the efforts of residents to "build a gated community that keeps visitors out."

"I guess it's not surprising that well over 50% of these noisy, squeaky wheels are not native to South Carolina, much less Charleston," Wohlfeil said. "These are very wealthy people who have found a beautiful place, corporate America some of them, who now say 'I have mine now and don't want anyone else to have it,' " she said.

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