As Charleston gets serious about reviewing its tourism management plan, there's a new documentary that might be of interest. "Bye Bye Barcelona" addresses what is being called "uncontrolled tourism" in Europe's fourth-biggest tourist destination, and the picture is not pretty.
If people who live and work in Charleston aren't sure about whether to speak up about Charleston's tourism management, the documentary might convince them.
Eduardo Chibas, the filmmaker, said that the number of tourists in Barcelona has tripled in a decade, and more cruise ships visit its port than any other place in Europe and the Mediterranean. Residents, tour guides and local tourism experts claim their city is being ruined.
In particular, people are concerned about "mass tourism," which brings hordes to the city to see buildings that date from medieval times, and which actually costs the city money in the long run.
Fortunately, in Charleston a committee of residents, business owners, tourism experts and planners is charged with analyzing tourism and its impacts here and recommending how it should be managed. The city's current plan, implemented in 1994, hasn't been updated since 1998.
Kitty Robinson, president and CEO of the Historic Charleston Foundation and committee chair, says a big piece of the group's analysis will be what residents have to say about issues like whether Charleston can maintain the quality of life for residents and a quality experience for visitors if numbers continue to grow dramatically.
The 22-member committee includes a wide range of residents and people who work in the tourism industry. It will focus on special events like parades, festivals and races that fill the city's calendar, and its streets, with what some would say offer anemic benefits to the local economy and headaches to locals.
Another likely subject will be enforcement of tourism regulations.
Members also will study transportation challenges heightened by the growth in numbers of tourists and others.
Interested residents can pick up helpful insights by attending a peninsula mobility forum sponsored by the HCF Tuesday at 7 p.m. at the Charleston Music Hall. Panelists will include experts from other cities that have dealt with transportation and parking problems.
One of them, Rick Williams, is from Portland, Ore. Since 1995 he has created comprehensive parking and/or transportation demand management plans for nearly 100 cities. Among strategies he recommends are employer-based transportation programs and alternative transportation.
Terry Shook, one of the nation's top experts in district planning and place-marking, will also be on the panel.
Mrs. Robinson hopes that the mobility forum will inform future discussions of the Tourism Management Plan Advisory Committee.
Several public meetings are planned where the public will be encouraged to participate.
"We really want input from the people who live here and are most affected," she said. "We want to come up with some positive suggestions."
It's a good time to speak up - before some of Barcelona's issues become Charleston's issues. Among them are attracting the wrong kind of tourism, which is not financially helpful; too many cruise ships; an increase in street crimes like pickpocketing; and anti-crowding measures that hurt locals. (Last year, people began having to pay to enter the World Heritage site Parc Guell, and numbers were limited to 800 a day.)
Some here would say tourism already erodes the quality of life for residents. And ranked No. 1 by Conde Nast readers in U.S. tourist destinations again last year, and No. 1 in the world by those readers in 2012, Charleston is sure to draw more visitors in the coming years.
The city was wise to recognize that it's time to do a check on the tourism industry and the problems its remarkable growth here inevitably creates.
And it's the public's responsibility to be part of the solutions.
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