By Bridget Lidy
|As technology changes, the modes of touring change. Establishing parameters with stakeholders is important to avoid conflict within your community. |Credit: Visit Savannah
Who doesn’t like to travel to a place on the top 10 list for being the best historic city, best romantic weekend getaway, or best night life in North America?
We all want to experience what makes a place “the best.” But balancing the demands of a successful tourism industry against impacts to historic neighborhoods is becoming increasingly challenging for those communities that want to preserve and protect the integrity of their character and identity.
Living with Success Revisited: Summit on Heritage Tourism in our Nation’s Most Beloved Historic Cities
was published by the National Trust for Historic Preservation in spring 2015. It builds on previous work from the mid-1990s when leaders from heavily-visited historic cities came together to discuss ways to manage tourism and protect residential life. At that time—and again today—no one doubted the economic benefits the tourism industry brings to a community. From renewed interest in a community’s history to the revitalization of a once struggling Main Street, the preservation movement spawned the heritage tourism industry. Yet the pendulum, and the conversation, should swing back to getting a better handle on tourism and its meteoric growth occurring in a limited market. The strategies to do so—then and now—include gathering data, strengthening communication among interests, undertaking a formal tourism management plan, and adopting/enforcing appropriate ordinances.
Localities track and examine their concerns related to tourism, and they create strategies to mitigate aspects of tourism that have the potential to negatively affect their communities. Ordinances have been drafted, approved and implemented for everything ranging from horse-drawn carriages, trolleys, and motor coaches, to Segways and walking tours. Fees have been created, collected and used to preserve, maintain and beautify the very districts most impacted by tourists. Some cities have been more proactive and have developed tourism management plans to look comprehensively at these and other issues and plan for future—anticipating tourism-related opportunities and threats before they land on the doorstep.
|It is important to protect and preserve the attributes of what makes your community unique. | Credit: Visit Savannah
Today, many of these same communities are experiencing different obstacles associated with tourism which were not expected. Residents are asking when a moratorium will be put in place to limit the construction of hotels. New tours are focused on more entertainment-related activities which seem to conflict directly with what residents' desire. Regulations, in some cases, appear outdated and are being challenged in the courts. Cities are welcoming visitors from cruise ships and other conveyances, like golf carts and helicopters, not imagined decades ago.
Additionally, trends in technology are rapidly changing how people experience travel. The shared economy is making travel easier and more cost-effective, but it’s more difficult to control. Enforcement strategies are shifting from a compliant-based system to full-time staff surfing travel review and social media sites to determine when laws are being broken. Short-term vacation rentals are reducing the number of full-time residents as well as reducing the amount of market-rate and work-force housing. These challenges chip away at the integrity and quality of life in historic districts—something sacred to those who saved neighborhoods and call them home.
Living with Success Revisited
identified four key issues: parking and transportation; congestion in high tourism areas; balancing visitor needs and resident amenities and services; and tourism management. The authors highlight what successful tools are being used in cities like Annapolis, Charleston, New Orleans, San Antonio and Savannah to address these concerns. The document also includes survey results from several other communities with strong tourism-based economies. Regardless of their location, results confirmed there are issues stemming from tourism, and management of the same is a concern for them.
It’s not easy being the best at anything, but it is critical to engage the community to determine what works. Respect must be established by inviting and facilitating diverse and passionate stakeholders with a mutual goal of building consensus. Many successes are started with pilot programs or trial periods where resident and industry representatives can evaluate if a recommendation sticks. It is important to identify practical ways to both sustain and handle a dynamic and growing industry while also nurturing its unique attributes and sense of community.
Realizing there is no-one-size-fits-all solution, the Living with Success Revisited
provides several examples of best practices for tourism management currently being used. It also serves as a starting point for a larger discussion in any community where the rapid growth of tourism is impacting what makes you the best.
Bridget Lidy is the director of the Tourism Management and Ambassadorship Department with the City of Savannah. She is originally from Alexandria, Virginia. She received her undergraduate degree from College of Charleston in Urban Studies and a Masters in Public Administration from the University of South Carolina.