Tour guides in Quebec City say they're stunned that future tour guides will no longer need a licence to show tourists around the city.

City officials made the change a few days before Christmas, making it no longer mandatory for tour guides to pass a 150-hour course. The new rule came into effect Jan. 1.

Marie Legroulx, president of the Quebec City Professional Tour Guides Association, said she's upset about the decision.

"There has to be a competence for tour guides. You don't just leave anybody to do it. There has to be a basic training."

Legroulx said the course is necessary because Quebec City is a designated UNESCO heritage site, adding the city's tour guides should have been consulted before the decision was made.

"The ones [who] are so intimate with the tourist business in Quebec have not had any part into it...If a decision is going to be made, at least consult everybody who has something to do with it," she said.

The course is offered at two local colleges. It costs $800 for students to take the class or $1,500 to enrol online. Once someone passes the course, a licence costs about $50.

Officials at the colleges where the courses are offered worry students already enrolled in next semester's program may drop out now that it's no longer mandatory.

"This is unfortunate considering the budgetary constraints of CEGEPS and St. Lawrence in particular," said Edward Berryman, the director of St. Lawrence College in Quebec City.

Licences issued too slowly, city says

City officials said the problem is that tour operators couldn't get a licence quickly enough, and that wasn't good for business.

A city spokesperson added that Quebec City was one of the few cities requiring tour operators to hire licensed guides.

But Legroulx disagrees, pointing to Montreal as an example where the tour-guide course is 240 hours and costs $2,000.

She said that in some European cities, guides undergo two years of training courses and in some cases must even pass an art history course.

Legroulx said she believes the city is bending to the requests of large international tour groups that don't want to have to hire a local guide or pay for their own staff to take the online course.

Legroulx and Berryman are expected to meet with city officials later today to find out if there's a plan to replace the licence system.

City officials say they will be happy to meet with all parties involved to explain why they chose to get rid of the licensing requirement.