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.

9 thoughts on “Tourist Tuesday, revisited

  1. Crowd control from Divers Beach to Cambria will preserve Big Sur and nature!
    All other gimmicks are destructive and money related driven by greedy tourist industry!
    Please wake up Monterey County, California Coastal Commission! Once destroyed, no way back. Your climate change will take away the Nature’s capacity to re-grow after destruction.
    Robert Korstanje.

  2. Good day, Kate, how long has the highway emergency call box station been located so close to the so called vista stop point? Are these boxes usually pointed out on updated road maps?

  3. Virtually every business in Big Sur Valley had their parking area to capacity and much more on Sunday so I think the problem is being slightly mischaracterized. The majority of tourists do spend money and the majority come into Big Sur as a day trip and are very predictable in their routine making similar stops. At least on a holiday weekend like last Sunday, sheer volume overrides and compounds all the other tourist issues. Thankfully much of Big Sur is still wild outside of the immediate Hwy 1 corridor. That said, I think it’s overdue to end vehicle-accessible dispersed camping on Plaskett, especially during the summer/fall fire season. Too many people think dispersed camping gives them carte blanche to drive on the meadows, make illegal campfires and have astonishingly loud “raves” on the mountain disturbing other humans and wildlife; all of which is unacceptable in a designated campground. Nacimiento-Ferguson is a safer and prettier drive with camping now prohibited.

  4. I’ve questioned businesses re the full lots, but the River Inn for example, when I go into the restaurant, it is pretty empty. They stop and use the bathroom, and MAYBE buy a soda at the store after wandering all over the property. Just cuz the lots are full does not mean people are buying. Lucia is the same way — bathroom breaks, primarily.

  5. Good point… It would be interesting to see the comprehensive data re when and where tourists are spending money since outside impressions from the parking lot is not data. I am pretty confident people are spending money, though, and have little price sensitivity where they do (they could charge $20 to park at Pfieffer Beach and it would still be full on weekends).

  6. Seriously, I don’t know exactly when that UFO landed and dumped off some of those stupid tourists but apparently they aren’t coming back for them🤨.

  7. I would really like to see the vehicle length and weight restrictions enforced.
    Gigantic motorhomes, much less one towing a vehicle and buses full of tourists are far too large to make the curves without encroaching in the other lane and sometimes having wheels leave the road as a result. This endangers untold thousands of people each year.

  8. Since you brought up a parking fee… Not certain what it’s being charged at now, but I am aware that Los Angeles National Forest has what’s called an ” Adventure Pass” that may be purchased for annual use to day use. It’s allowed for better control over use and camping. Could be an option for Big Sur.

  9. I have visited Big Sur from rural WA State for a week in the spring for most of the last 28 years. In my opinion, the first and most important step that needs to be taken to protect Big Sur from being loved to death is to require lodging or camping reservations for anyone staying the night between Carmel and Cambria. Along with this, all camping at unimproved locations should be banned from the crest of the coast mountains down to the ocean. Day trippers should have to pay a fee and should have to “check out” at the end of the day. Once these steps are complete, the rest of the issues are far easier to deal with, as this would mostly eliminate unpermitted fires, human waste issues, and trespassing. I also live in a fire-prone recreational area, so If I were a resident of Big Sur, those would be my biggest concerns. Of course the complete and utter lack of local, state, and federal enforcement of the existing laws that are constantly ignored must be addressed. Also Big Sur should not develop any additional lodging; there is plenty already. I would disagree that highway 1 is not large enough for towing a trailer safely. Perhaps there are people towing that are not capable (just as there are people in cars crossing the line, stopping anywhere they want, etc.), but there is no reason to encroach into the other lane anywhere between Carmel and Cambria when towing a 30 foot trailer. Regarding businesses, to be honest when we visit we don’t spend much money except for camping fees and ice cream and ice at Lucia or Gorda. That is not why we go there (and why I imagine most residents live there). Its beautiful. We spend our time on the beach at Sand Dollar or hiking to Cone Peak (is the road reopened yet?) or simply sitting in the grass at Kirk staring at the ocean. Your area of the country is extremely important and loved by many people who visit, and I think most visitors that paid for a place to stay overnight do respect the area. I don’t think the area is important or loved or respected by the “kids” that drive up your dirt roads and crap all over and start fires. If it was important to them, they wouldn’t do that. I hope as you go through your planning exercise, some of these points will resonate. I cannot tell you how happy I am that you all care enough to go through this exercise to help with the tourism issues at hand. And thank you Kate for your site. It is an ongoing resource for folks in your community and out.

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