By Harriet McLeod
CHARLESTON, South Carolina (Reuters) - South Carolina, a state often noted for its Southern manners, is now putting a premium on Southern charm.
Under rules that took effect on Wednesday in the capital city of Columbia, new taxi drivers and those renewing a chauffeur's license will be required to take a free hospitality course offered by the convention and visitors bureau.
Drivers will learn to point out Columbia's key attractions -- such as the Statehouse, art museum, zoo and University of South Carolina -- and suggest theater and sports events, exhibits, restaurants and hotels, said Kim Jamieson, communications director for the regional tourism authority.
"We want to equip our taxi cab drivers with the most information possible to be ambassadors for our capital city," Jamieson told Reuters.
"If a family of three gets into a taxi cab and there's a kid, the driver can say 'Hey, there are some awesome exhibits here that are going to be perfect for your kid.'"
The "Hospitality Hot Spotters" class, also offered to restaurant and hotel workers, will teach taxi drivers "Southern hospitality and all that entails, how to extend your hand, how to be thoughtful, how to be welcoming," Jamieson said.
"This is the South," she said. "Wherever you go in the South, you're going to be greeted with a smile or a warm gesture ... We want to show our best and promote our pride in our city."
The push for politeness comes on the heels of Governor Nikki Haley's order last month for all state employees to answer the phone by saying "It's a great day in South Carolina."
Columbia, with a population of 129,000, has about 300 taxi drivers, city council member Tameika Devine said. Two-thirds of them work for companies such as Yellow Cab or Capitol City Cab, and those companies wanted to extend regulations already in place at the airport to the smaller cab companies and the entire city, she said.
The new rules also ban Columbia cabbies from wearing tank tops, flip-flops and hair curlers, smoking in the car or talking on the phone in front of a passenger.
Don Havird, co-owner of Capitol City Cab, said the drivers who make the most money already play the role of tour guide. The hospitality course will help others do their jobs more effectively, he said.
"That way when somebody asks them 'What do you do for fun around here,' they won't say 'I drive to Charlotte,'" Havird said.
(Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Jerry Norton)