Tourism plan brings balance

Charleston, increasingly a magnet for visitors like those at the Custom House, will soon consider approving a new strategy for achieving a balance between the tourism economy and livability for its residents. (Wade Spees/File)

The city of Charleston Planning Commission will review a new Tourism Management Plan on Monday, exactly one year after the first public meeting was held to initiate that document’s development. Based on the final plan, the 27 people from diverse backgrounds who drafted its recommendations as part of the Tourism Management Committee have had a very productive year.

It’s a solid and badly needed plan. After all, the last time the city’s tourism management strategies were officially updated was in 1998, and a lot has changed since then.

For one thing, tourism is up by about 70 percent. Without sensible rules, an increase of that magnitude would cripple a living, working city like Charleston.

The first of five sections in the management plan — tourism management and enforcement — creates a task force to help ensure that never happens.

The city has already created a set of Charleston Standards for Tourism, which lay out sustainable guidelines for the industry, and it is assessing the current use of tourism enforcement officers. Those special officers help make sure that tour companies comply with city rules.

And when visitors decide to explore the city on their own, they need to be able to find their way around. The plan’s second section — visitor orientation — proposes improving street signage and adding signs to point tourists to places of interest around the city. Updated visitor center maps would also highlight popular attractions beyond the peninsula, and parking garages would be more clearly identified.

That could help keep cars off the street, now is a frequent headache for residents of the historic district and one of the concerns addressed in the section on quality of life. In order to reduce congestion, carriage and tour activity would be monitored and possibly adjusted to avoid peak traffic hours. Hotel room counts would also be studied.

There are still no plans for a public restroom south of Broad Street, but City Hall now opens its bathrooms to the public on weekends. And the city plans to point out the locations of other public restrooms via apps and signage.

The cruise industry will also remain subject to strict guidelines on the number of port calls per year and the number of passengers per ship. Meanwhile, the city will study the addition of shore power to reduce air pollution and will look at the possibility of charging a passenger head tax.

It should also soon be much less likely that cruise ship arrivals coincide with major events like the Cooper River Bridge Run — as happened last weekend. That’s because the plan recommends creating a Special Events Committee that will directly approve any and all public events on the peninsula.

The number of such events would be capped at its current level, and all events — no matter how long-running — will have to reapply each year for consideration. That additional level of planning will give the city better oversight to help ensure that major events don’t overlap or cause logistical problems.

And logistics in general would improve dramatically if the recommendations in the section on mobility and transportation are fully implemented. Many of the most ambitious ideas — including securing rail right of way for a mixed-use path and eventual mass transit system — stem from a mobility report by urban planner Gabe Klein that was completed late last year.

Other important provisions call for giving pedestrians priority in roadways and creating an integrated bicycle infrastructure throughout the peninsula.

The Tourism Management Plan is an ambitious document, filled with sensible proposals to help the city accommodate millions of visitors each year while remaining a livable, functioning home and workplace.

Implementing those recommendations will be a challenging and ultimately rewarding process. The Planning Commission and City Council should start right away.

Correction: An earlier version of this editorial incorrectly stated the day of the Planning Commission meeting. It is scheduled for Monday, April 6 at the Charleston County Library, 68 Calhoun Street.