Some time ago, I wrote a blog about how I learned to love tourists called, “I’m not a Grockle, I live here.” (You can find it at http://ow.ly/Ps7k308ciuD, if only to find out what a “Grockle” is!). Having grown up in a small, historic country frequently visited by camera-wielding tourists, you quickly learned to embrace, rather than fight, human curiosity.
One of the major factors affecting world tourism in the coming years will be what’s termed “over-tourism.” We’ve seen the 300,000 residents of Iceland struggling with 3 million tourists a year. It’s almost impossible to buy a home in Venice and the city has almost become a tourist theme park. Machu Picchu, the Inca city situated 8,000 feet up in the Peruvian Andes, has been forced to restrict tourist numbers at certain times of the year to avoid destroying the world heritage site.
These are extreme examples, but there is a need to manage tourism. It’s a process called Sustainable Tourism, which aims to ensure that development is a positive experience for locals and tourists while helping to generate future employment and economic benefits. Originally it was formulated to avoid damaging indigenous cultures while helping them economically.
No one can suggest that tourism to Northwest Florida is really destroying local culture. The culture of the area is essentially the same as the tourists. True, Destin, for example, was a fishing village, but Leonard Destin only moved to the area in 1845, so he was a bit of a tourist himself. The continued success of Florida’s largest fishing fleet is largely due to tourism.
Managing tourism and its effects, as many lawmakers around the world have found, is more to do with planning and empathetic (for both locals and tourists) reactions. Managing tourist numbers in Machu Picchu is essential if we are not to lose a significant historical site. However, the population of Iceland has agreed that the benefits of tourism outweigh the knee-jerk reaction to ban arrivals. Venice without tourists would either become a slowly sinking museum or have to change to become a modern city.
Here on the Emerald Coast we are not suffering from “over-tourism.” Yes, the roads are busy during the 60 Days of Summer, and things are hectic on July 4th weekend and a couple of other weekends. The solution here must be tourism management.
We do need to look at spreading the season. Our local government must continue to develop traffic management plans, adequate and convenient parking, and alternative transportation. The industry and government must look to tourism management solutions around the world. Moving tourists out of city centers is working in New York and Venice. Some municipalities have reacted by banning hotel building or a crackdown on vacation rentals and Airbnb, but this is really reactionary rather than planning and has serious effects on the economic benefits to the locals.
Sustainable tourism is essential for the Panhandle. Don't throw the baby out with the bathwater, so to speak.
Martin Owen is an independent consultant to the tourism industry and owner of Owen Organization in Shalimar. Readers can email questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.