This is a good time of year to begin reviewing and revising the city's Tourism Management Plan. Flowers are in bloom, houses and gardens have been on tour, the ocean has started warming up and lots of schoolchildren are on spring break and able to travel with their parents.
As a result, trolley cars are jam-packed, restaurants are booked, streets downtown are blocked by disoriented visitors - on foot and in cars - and people have to jostle for position on sidewalks.
Residents of much-toured areas have a lot to say on the subject of tourism management. Unfortunately, at a forum planned by some of Charleston's chief tourism officials, they were not allowed to say anything, only allowed to submit questions in writing and listen to answers from a panel of experts.
According to Merriam Webster's Dictionary, a forum is a meeting "at which a subject can be discussed." The format of the Tourism Management Forum last week allowed for no discussion at all.
Tim Keane, the city's director of planning, preservation and sustainability, said the move was intentional: "This is a serious undertaking, and the process requires specific suggestions from the community, not just where they come in and scream about an issue and then leave."
Getting a record of people's concerns makes good sense, but prohibiting people from responding to the answers provided by a panel of experts was a mistake. People in Charleston can, and have, had helpful discussions on sensitive topics without screaming. Indeed, when given an opportunity, they can add substantive insights.
Further, when not allowed to speak, some felt frustrated and concluded that the process was window dressing designed to make the public feel part of the process, but not really.
Charleston Mayor Joe Riley appointed 24 tourism professionals, historic preservation advocates and neighborhood representatives to an advisory committee to revise the existing Tourism Management Plan, last updated in 1998.
It would serve them well to compile all the questions and suggestions from the "forum" and make a plan for addressing them, and any other significant issues. Then hold another public meeting to tell people what they've been doing and to listen attentively as the public responds.
Some of the concerns residents mentioned in their written questions were providing public bathrooms south of Broad Street, establishing residents-only parking and limiting the number of special events held on the peninsula, which have increased by more than 60 percent in the past four years.
In an open discussion, a range of people - residents and hoteliers, planners and tour guides - would bring their perspectives to the fore, and give the committee some things to consider as it moves forward on its task.
There are no easy answers for establishing balance in Charleston. The city's first obligation should be ensure its livability for residents. Part of that equation involves a healthy business environment to supply jobs and support the economy.
Tourism is a mainstay of the economy.
The city must find a way to accommodate tourists without sacrificing the quality of life for residents.
And the committee must also consider the fragile nature of tourism. Too many standing-room-only trolleys moving haltingly along too-crowded streets to attractions with hours-long waits can't be inviting for tourists or residents.
It will take some creative and open discussions to revise the Tourism Management Plan.
And that means a forum where people are encouraged to talk.
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