Ribaudo column: Time to rethink Lake Tahoe’s tourism model (opinion)
Much has been written about the overcrowding on the weekends this destination has been experiencing and how out of control it has become. The proposed solutions have been many, from getting mapmakers to change their software code to steer people out of certain neighborhood to setting up cones to change the flow of traffic and many more proposed solutions in between.
But I look at these proposals as dealing more with symptoms of a problem rather than the problem itself, and the overcrowding problem is complex with many layers. Let’s consider the layers.
First off, start with the population growth of California — which is expected to increase from 40 million today to 46 million over the next 15 years. Just consider there are approximately 30,000 houses being built in the Folsom area. The population and demand for tourism destinations and all the activities have to offer has increased dramatically. It is a game changer and destinations throughout the state and beyond are experiencing the very same things.
The next layer below is the government agencies including El Dorado County, the city of South Lake Tahoe, Caltrans, law enforcement and the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency. All of which are set up to react to problems not necessarily solve them. And when they do solve problems these agencies move slowly. That’s the nature of bureaucracies.
Lake Tahoe itself. Why you ask? The lake is what we call a trip generator. People want to come and see it and experience it.
The private sector including Heavenly Mountain Resort, Sierra-at-Tahoe, the Stateline casinos and lodging properties, all of which contribute to the problem in their own way. In the case of Heavenly, Sierra-at-Tahoe and the casinos they encourage visitation by the activities they offer. The lodging industry contributes especially in a storm because they have inflexible cancellation policies.
What these layers reveal is this complexity of the problem — especially if everyone is seeing the problem from their own perspectives. If we really want to solve the problem, it may be time to look at this in a very different way. It’s not about just getting the map company to change its software. No, it’s much harder. It’s about getting everyone to leave their perspective and look at the problem from the outside in.
From my view we need to change the fundamental premise of tourism. How do we do more with less?
Can we increase tourism spending and the resulting economic impact while at the same time reducing the number of visitors?
Can we increase tourism revenues by 20 percent while reducing the number of visitors by 20 percent?
How do we reduce demand for the peak summer and winter season and increase interest in the destination during the shoulder seasons?
How do we reduce demand for weekends and increase demand for the mid-week?
How do we make these changes using the tools and capabilities we have?
Technology, pricing, ordinances, marketing and communication platforms are all tools we have to assist in this change.
This destination, like many, was built on more and more visitors. That model may have run its course.
There is an old adage it goes like this, “either make change or change will be made for us.” This community and all its elements must stop, look at and make the changes necessary. We need to stop looking at the issue from our individual perspectives and consider the bigger picture, because if we don’t this issue will only worsen and in doing so will wreck everything for everybody.
If you haven’t been there or you haven’t been in a while don’t miss the Minden Meat and Deli. Probably the best grub in the Carson Valley with lots of beer choices and great burgers and sandwiches. Check it out.
It’s a Wrap
This past week I had the chance to see my 5-month-old granddaughter and I was amazed just watching her struggle to succeed to roll over. It reminded me how much I look at the world in a very different way. I see everything from a new prism, not how it impacts me but how it will impact her and her generation. That sweet little girl changes your life and your priorities forever.
Carl Ribaudo is a columnist, consultant, speaker and writer who lives in South Lake Tahoe. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.