The most recent accolades Travel + Leisure readers have bestowed on Charleston are a fitting reminder of how fortunate residents are to live here.
They also are a reminder of how important it is to manage the inevitable uptick in tourism that will ensue. Who wouldn't want to experience the No. 1 city to visit in the U.S. and Canada?
Even in 1998 when the city of Charleston last updated its tourism management plan, one concern was ensuring that the number of tourists didn't harm residents' quality of life. Since then, the historic district hasn't gotten any larger, but tourism has increased by 70 percent.
Many peninsula residents are feeling as if they live in a fishbowl. They can't walk on sidewalks without being jostled and they schedule their lives around when cruise ships are in port to avoid the massive influx of passengers on city streets.
Mayor Joe Riley appointed a committee of residents, people in business, city planners and tourism experts to recommend revisions to the tourism management plan. And five subcommittees are addressing key subjects: quality of life, transportation and mobility, special events, visitor orientation, and management enforcement.
The final recommendations won't be completed until the end of the year, but Mayor Riley has said he is open to improvements that can be made sooner. For example, he has found a way to hire three officers to enforce tourism rules. That's a good start.
Committees will need to discuss whether three is enough. In 1998, the city was aiming for four officers full-time and four more in peak tourist seasons.
Steve Gates, who is chairing the subcommittee addressing quality of life issues, says that the city's focus has been on accommodating tourists. It's time for the focus to be on improvements for residents, too.
For example, in the popular tourism months of March and April, downtown residents often have to park three or four blocks away from their houses.
Mr. Gates' subcommittee is looking at resident parking programs in other cities that might be worthy of local consideration. Remote parking for tourists is an option mentioned recently by mobility expert Gabe Klein.
Members will also recommend ways to reduce tourist-related activity during those busiest times.
One issue that continues to pop up is the proliferation of special events in the historic area: runs and walks, parades and ceremonies that require streets to be closed and traffic to be rerouted or stopped altogether.
Many of these events are not worth the headaches. And surely some could be held other than downtown.
The regulation of cruise ships has been the subject of intense controversy for several years. It needs to be resolved as part of the tourism management plan. The city regulates many facets of tourism. It should limit the number and size of cruise ships and reduce pollution by requiring the installation of shore power.
Another perennial issue is the absence of public restrooms near the Battery and White Point Garden, two major tourist destinations. Residents of Fort Sumter House want a city solution to the problem, since FSH bears much of the burden of distressed tourists.
Obviously, visitors like Charleston pretty much the way it is. They regularly put the city on best-to-visit lists, and their numbers continue to grow.
But the strains that residents feel because of tourism also are growing, and residents deserve relief.
Tourism is an important part of Charleston's economy, but it should be managed in a way to enhance, not harm, the quality of life for residents. A comprehensive plan must be implemented soon - before the next travel magazine names Charleston No. 1.
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