My View: Notes from the Front Row (Opinion)
Overtourism is real and it does exist in South Shore and destinations across the country despite what some uninformed community members might say.
It was with interest I watched local resident and business owner Dreu Murin articulate his position to the City Council that overtourism doesn’t exist in South Shore. To make his point, Murin presented historical data that illustrated since 1990 visitor volumes had reduced and he draws a conclusion that, therefore, there can be no overtourism. It’s a simplified analysis and one that the tourism industry is well aware of. It also misses some important context.
The issue of Overtourism is a dynamic that is happening in destinations across the country, and we are no different. Murin’s conclusion misses an important point; it’s not just the volume of visitors that defines overtourism, it’s also the impact they have on a community/destination. We can have fewer visitors overall, but hyper concentrated on weekends and on holiday periods, the impact they have on residents can be significant.
Also, Murin discounts the day visitor, this despite the fact that Tahoe has been impacted by significant regional population increases. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, California population with 39 million has seen an increase of 6% since 2010 and the population has increased as well in Washoe County (15%) and Douglas County (5.3%) since 2010. The notion that overtourism does not exist in South Shore simply does not pass the smell test with many residents, visitors and the press.
Just Google overtourism and Lake Tahoe and see the results. Article after article outlines the issue visitors face. Among residents overtourism is very real. On behalf of the Lake Tahoe Stewardship plan we recently conducted some of the largest surveys ever of visitors and residents on the topic of tourism. Some survey highlights from residents:
- 79% of residents indicated trash and litter need to be addressed.
- 74% of residents indicated that traffic congestion needs to be addressed
- Seventy percent indicated parking needs to be addressed
- 66% of residents indicated access and the ability to enjoy services, activities and amenities needs to be addressed
Ask most any resident, they have an opinion on the issue.
Visitors as well experience overtourism, 44% of visitors indicated they experienced more traffic congestion, and lack of parking over the last three years and they don’t think it’s going to get better. Fully 60% indicated they expect the situation to get worse over the next five years.
What is happening across the county and in South Shore are significant changes to tourism economies. What we are seeing is a shift in visitor patterns from a volume-based tourism economy to a yield-based visitor economy, fewer visitors, at more concentrated times having a bigger impact but spending more money.
It is exactly because of these changes the region with participation from the private sector, Destination Marketing Organizations (including the Lake Tahoe visitors Authority), local, state and federal agencies are working together to develop smart solutions that manage the impact of tourism on residents and the environment, provide access for people of all types and provide for a growing economy. The forces of change we are experiencing are incredibly challenging, increased competition, changing visitor habits, the increased voice of residents, lack of housing, wages and more.
It might be more helpful to not look back to 1990 but to look ahead and adapt. We need to answer questions like how do we shift visitation to off-peak periods? The Tahoe Blue Events Center will help with that. Can we redirect weekend visitors to weekdays? We know that remote work makes this a possibility. How do we reach visitors who care deeply about sustainability and not only minimize their impact but help us improve our environment?
Understanding the changed marketplace and harnessing our creativity and other resources in how we see the future unfolding is a better strategy than doubling down on where we were. Tourism has changed. Darwin never said the strongest survive, he did say those best able to adapt survive.
It is a Wrap
It’s with deep sadness the South Shore heard the terrible news about Kyle Smaine. It’s tragic when anyone passes in our community even more so when its someone who embodies who we are and the best of what this place can be. Deepest condolences to his wife, his family and all his friends. We are less as a community without him.
Carl Ribaudo is a columnist, consultant, speaker, and writer in South Lake Tahoe. You can reach him at email@example.com
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