Tourism: the love/hate relationship

An editorial looking at the cost and effect of tourism.

Tourism is the future.

Or I suppose the more common phrase around here is, tourism is the future of Golden.

I hear that phrase all the time, and the more I interview tourism-based business owners and workers, the more I realize how important tourists are to the local economy.

I didn’t grow up in a tourism town, but the six months I spent in the Okanagan made me see some of the pitfalls, or maybe a better word is annoyances, that come with being a tourist destination.

The people in Vernon, where I lived, referred to May Long Weekend as “Invasion of the Red License Plates.”

Careless drivers race through the community, outdoor enthusiasts don’t give the same respect to the area that locals would (leaving garbage, wrecking trails, and bothering wildlife), the town is just plain busy, and I suspect many people move to communities like these to get away from the busy cities.

And anyone who has worked in the customer service industry knows how difficult it can be to deal with an angry, frustrated tourist.

However, the good side of tourism, I firmly believe, far outweighs the negative side.

Happy people on vacations from all over the world, are looking at the attractions around town with an enthusiam and sense of awe that you lose after living in a place for a while.

More times than I can count, I’ve struck up a conversation with a happy traveller in a pub or on the street, listening to the stories of their adventures around town, and how different it is from wherever they came from.

It’s a breath of fresh air.

There are many different adventure tourism companies around: rafters, paragliders, ATVers, snowmobilers, and even the ski hill.

I have heard the argument that those companies don’t employ true locals, they employ transients in their 20s who stick around for a season or two and then move on.

But for that season or two, they are living in Golden, paying rent, buying groceries, eating at local restaurants and shopping in local stores.

I have a friend who works in the wedding industry, and of the 42 weddings booked this season, only one is local.

Tourism brings in tourists, workers, busixnesses, and most importantly, money.

A few weeks ago the Golden Star conducted an informal (non-scientific) online poll, asking whether people would like to see more tourists in Golden.

Thirty per cent of the people who answered the question said no, they wouldn’t like to see more tourists around town.

I understand that there are families who have lived in Golden for generations, and don’t want to see the town they helped build change.

And the majority of people who participated in the poll voted for more tourism.

But this figure still astounds me.

Since long before I got here, tourism has been the life blood of this community.

I first arrived in Golden just before last fall’s municipal election. I interviewed many of the candidates, and was at the organized debates.

One common theme with all the candidates, and many of the questions posed at the debates was how the Town planned to bring more tourists into the community.

It’s an important question, and one I hope will remain in the spotlight during the upcoming byelection.

I only hope that the 30 per cent of people who don’t want to see tourism grow, realize the ways it could improve life for the people in Golden.