Sightseeing Tours in New York City
These information pages can help you get started in learning about some of the laws and registration requirements that may apply to your experiences on Airbnb. These pages include summaries of some of the rules that may apply to different sorts of activities, and contain links to government resources that you may find helpful.
Please understand that these information pages are not comprehensive, and are not legal advice. If you are unsure about how local laws or this information may apply to you or your Experience, we encourage you to check with official sources or seek legal advice.
Please note that we don’t update this information in real time, so you should confirm that the laws or procedures have not changed recently.*
Do I need a Sightseeing Guide License to host my experience in New York City?
Maybe, depending on the type of Experience you’re offering.
New York is one of a handful of cities in the U.S. that requires specific licensing for “Sightseeing Guides.” While the constitutionality of these licensing requirement are disputed, it appears that New York City currently enforces portions of their sightseeing guide regulation, so we encourage you to get this license if the activities you’re providing appear to fall within the requirements described below.
New York City defines a “guide” as a person who guides or directs people to a “place or point of public interest” in the City, or anyone who - in connection with a sightseeing tour - describes, explains or lectures about a “place or point of public interest” in the City. While a “point or place of public interest” isn’t defined, it likely includes places like landmarks, museums, as well as historic/famous sites and buildings.
With this in mind, when you’re creating your Experience, you should ask yourself:
- Could the place you plan to take your Guests as part of your Experience be considered a “place of public interest,” like a landmark, museum, or a historic/famous site? (For example, ask yourself whether the location would be likely to show up on a Tour Guide’s list of places to visit.)
- Are you guiding or directing guests to that place? (If you don’t have a license, consider meeting your guests at the location, without guiding them there or giving directions yourself)
- Are you lecturing to your guests about that place as part of a longer “tour” of other places of “public interest?”
If your answer to Question 1 is “no” then you likely don’t need a Sightseeing Guide License. If your answer to Question 1 is “yes,” but your answers to Questions 2 and 3 are “no,” then you probably still don’t need this type of license. On the other hand, if you are either (1) taking Guests to landmarks, museums, or other places of historic significance, or (2) lecturing about these places as part of a sightseeing tour, then you’ll likely need a Sightseeing Guide License from the City.
That said, this is a tricky area and we encourage you to check out the City’s Department of Consumer Affairs and speak to a lawyer to make sure you understand these requirements and follow your local laws.
- Example 1: Michelle plans to take her guests on a walking tour of the architectural gems of the City, stopping at the Empire State Building, the Chrysler Building, and the Millennium Tower. Since Michelle will be guiding Guests to places that the City considers to be “of public interest,” they’ll probably require that she get a Sightseeing Guide License. Before providing her Experience, Michelle will need to file her application to the Department of Consumer Affairs, take and pass the written exam, and pay the $100 in fees in order to get her license.
- Example 2: Ryan wants to give Guests an intimate literary tour, taking them to the New York Public Library and then to the Shakespeare Garden in Central Park. At the Library, he will talk about its history, discuss its architecture and recent renovations, then touch upon its cultural significance within the City. Because Ryan is lecturing about a place that the City considers to be “of public interest” as part of the city may consider to be a “sightseeing tour,” they’ll probably require that he get his Sightseeing Guide License first.
- Example 3: Adam is taking Guests to his favorite restaurant - the Red Rooster - after they enjoy a pottery making session at his studio in Harlem. While the restaurant is a well-known Harlem establishment, the City probably doesn’t consider it to be a “place of public interest,” so they’ll likely not require Sam to get a Sightseeing Guide License in order to take his Guests to the restaurant as part of his Experience.
- Example 4: Alicia plans on meeting her Guests at Battery Park to sketch the cityscape. Although the city may consider Battery Park to be a “place of public interest,” since Alicia isn’t guiding them to the Park or lecturing about its significance, the City will likely not require Alicia to get a Sightseeing Guide License to host her Experience.
- Example 5: Liz’s favorite structure in the City is the Brooklyn Bridge. She plans to meet Guests for a picnic at Brooklyn Bridge Park, and talk about the history and significance of the bridge. While the city may consider Brooklyn Bridge to be a “place of public interest,” because Liz is not lecturing about the Bridge while giving a “sightseeing tour,” the City will likely not require Liz to get a Sightseeing Guide License.
How do I get a Sightseeing Guide License?
If you need a Sightseeing Guide License to host your Experience, then you’ll need to apply for one from the Department of Consumer Affairs. Detailed information regarding the application requirements can be found here.
Below are the steps to complete an application. This list may not be exhaustive, so please check out the City’s website and contact the City of New York or speak to a lawyer to make sure you’ve met all of the requirements:
- Fill out the basic individual license application,
- Include a copy of your government-issued photo ID,
- Attached or upload your picture with application,
- Pay the license fee of $50 (note that this fee generally covers the license for up to 2 years), and
- Granting Authority to Act Affirmation (you’ll only need this if someone else is filing your application for you).
In addition to submitting your application and supporting documents, you’ll need to take and pass a written test (the “Professional Licensing Examination for New York City Sightseeing Guides”). The Exam includes 150 questions (all multiple choice or true/false) to test your knowledge of the City’s history, culture, and attractions, as well as practical information about navigating the City. You must get a score of 97 correct answers to pass. The Department’s Study Reference gives tips on how to prepare for the Exam. The Exam costs $50. When you’re ready, you can take the Exam at the Department of Consumer Affairs Licensing Center (42 Broadway, NY, NY) Monday through Friday from 9am to 2pm.
Another thing to keep in mind - the Department of Consumer Affairs says that applicants for the Sightseeing Guide license must pass the written test within 30 days of filing a completed application.
Once you have received your License, you are required to carry it with you whenever you host an Experience that the City views as a sightseeing tour.
Is there anything else I should be thinking about?
You may need permission to to take Guests to private buildings or certain public buildings or attractions which are open to the public. Most of the sights or attractions you plan to showcase probably have a website or office number where you can learn more about guided visits; be sure to check with each location before bringing Guests.
*Airbnb is not responsible for the reliability or correctness of the information contained in any links to third party sites (including any links to legislation and regulations).