Tourist Tuesday, revisited

President’s Day weekend is a good time to revisit an issue I have written about before: Local communities are in the best position to determine the level of tourism and type of tourism they want or can handle.

Three days of picture-perfect California weather, a holiday weekend and the expected happened —  tourists were out in droves. The CHP (California Highway Patrol) and MCSO (Monterey County Sheriff’s Office) have come to understand the need for a proactive presence at Bixby Bridge and often will take up positions there BEFORE they get the inevitable calls regarding the dangerous conditions brought on by the selfie instagram crowds. For that those of us who must travel the highway for work or town runs, we thank you.

I haven’t been creating “Tourist Tuesday” blog posts for some time, but now that CABS (Community Association of Big Sur) and BGT (Beyond Green Travel) have partnered to create a community-based Destination Management Plan, I think it is time to revisit the issue — not every week, but occasionally, as new information becomes available.

What started this one is an article I read on Good News Tourism here: The thesis of this article is that local communities are in the best position to determine the tourism levels and type they want or can handle. That is also the premise of the partnership between CABS and BGT.

CABS and BGT have developed a survey to be completed by residents, businesses, employees, and others, as a starting point to determine the direction this community will take in managing the overtourism we are experiencing. I reached out to CABS and BGT today (Monday as I write this) regarding this survey and was told it was being translated into Spanish. After the original posting, I received the information on the survey and will publish it tomorrow. Now, then, is a good time to draw attention to at least one other community who has done the same.

In the Good Tourism blog, there is a paragraph that stood out: “Even local authorities can be out of touch, of course. A perfect example is from a survey of residents and businesses of San Juan Islands, Washington state, USA. Results were published during the week. According to one finding, “there was wide acknowledgement among residents that vacation rentals reduce long-term housing affordability”, which is reportedly counter to the County’s prior position.” Sound like Monterey? It does to me, so I decided to check out the survey created for San Juan Islands of Washington State.

Indeed, I found the similarities to be striking. This is from the 65 page summary of the findings from the San Juan Islands survey, which can be found here,

“One finding that differs from the county government’s beliefs regards vacation rentals. The county says they do not have an impact on availability of housing. According to the study:

‘There was wide acknowledgement among residents that vacation rentals reduce long-term housing affordability. Residents recognize economic benefits from tourism, but also that tourism-related crowding reduces the quality of visitor experiences and has negative impacts on the environment.’

‘A higher percentage of businesses than residents recognized the economic benefits from tourism, but most agreed that vacation rentals reduce affordability of long-term rentals.’”

It is important for everyone involved in promoting our area to aim toward promoting a quality experience for the tourist that focuses on the existing infrastructure and businesses who are the life blood of community. Both businesses and community need housing which is affordable to provide employees who live where they work, and for the volunteers on which all of Big Sur’s major non-profits depend. STRS do NOT provide an affordable alternative to existing campgrounds, inns, and hotels — they are often as expensive or more than what already is here. It isn’t affordable alternatives that are driving tourists away from local businesses and infrastructure and into the fast disappearing wildness of Big Sur, it is the crowds who stream here who can’t get reservations because we are already overbooked. We are loosing the characteristics that originally drew our visitors — friendly, accommodating locals, day trips into the wilderness from their base in Big Sur in our campgrounds, inns, and hotels. Instead, tourists are making our wilderness their base with no reciprocity to our businesses, spending little or no money actually IN Big Sur . The current selfie-tourist brings little to our community and businesses.

I don’t leave my property on holiday weekends because it has become untenable. My son counted 75 cars when he came home from a town run. That’s probably 150 plus people camping along a five-mile road. One of them was camping in the middle of the road after their clutch gave out and they got themselves stuck. They had come from San Jose. If they spend ANY money here, it will be to Cambria Towing. My son has become extremely experienced in getting town folk out of the predicaments they have gotten themselves in to.

75 cars equate to 150 plus people camping on a five-mile road. Since much of it is too steep for camping, and there are only a finite number of places suitable for camping, this means tourists were camping on top of each other. How is that a sustainable experience for tourist or local? One local asked others if anyone had noted any USFS presence during this weekend, so far, no one has reported seeing any. This will make for an interesting fire season this year.