Tourists, dollars fill holiday coffers
Road rage and ringing registers are standards of the tourist season at Lake Tahoe.
This New Year’s was no exception. While the approximate number of visitors will not be determined for two more months, initial indications suggest a record year. Estimates put the number of people crowded between the Stateline casinos on New Year’s Eve at 60,000.
“Our primary revenue generator is tourism,” said Terry LeBan of the Lake Tahoe Visitors Authority. “We are not a metropolitan area that has other means of generating revenue. We choose to live here and we have to deal with it.”
Despite the clear need for tourists, most locals still have some reservations about the often unbecoming attitude of Tahoe visitors.
“What I look forward to is the day after New Year’s when all the crazy people are out of here,” said South Shore resident Jesse Stoner. “I feel when people get up here they lose their head. They act reckless and they drive reckless.”
Stoner is also quick to affirm the need for tourists, despite the nuisance.
“There are a lot of great people who come here but the arrogant, stupid ones outweigh the courteous people,” Stoner said. “I am not saying tourists shouldn’t come, they should just show more respect and keep on coming.”
Merchants benefited not only from visitor shopping, but from an increase of local patronage as a result of the rush of tourism.
“People who work for tips have been coming in,” said Steve Costanza of Mountain High Records and Gifts. “Generally what is good for the locals is good for us. It is good to see people with a little more money in their pockets. The trickle-down economy is alive and well in Tahoe.”
While the positive effects of a high-volume tourist weekend are not always readily clear, the negatives are glaringly apparent. Five-minute trips to the grocery store or post office can last as long as a half hour due to overwhelming traffic.
Despite the high number of cars on the road, Steve Gwaltney of the California Highway Patrol said traffic problems on this New Year’s Eve, alcohol-related or otherwise, were down.
“The only (alcohol-related traffic incident) we had was a crash with minor injuries,” Gwaltney said. “On a whole, people were great this year. We don’t want to stifle partying; we just don’t want people drinking and getting behind the wheel.”
Regardless of their behavior, the sheer number of tourists clogs the roads.
“Certainly on peak weekends our capacity to absorb the impact of that many automobiles in the basin creates a lot of stress,” said Pam Drum of the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency. “We need to search for innovative ways to absorb the impact of having more people in the basin.”
The Lake Tahoe redevelopment project aims to ease road congestion through the Coordinative Transit System. CTS will use existing public transportation and global positioning systems to ensure quick and efficient service.
“(CTS) is a high-tech, mass-transit system that is going to connect several private and public shuttle systems and consolidate them into one big transit system.”
For the time being, there is little Tahoe residents can do to solve the problems caused by Tahoe’s main revenue creator, so prior to each big holiday, they bear down for the rush.
“For the Fourth of July and New Year’s I get gas in my car and stock up groceries,” Costanza said. “Anything I can do to get out of the tourists’ way helps out my life.”
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