Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

World Tourism Day, September 27th and tourism amid strife and the possibility of a federal shutdown

Augmented with the sections on too many tourists and visitor rentals of residential properties and therefore reprinted with a new publication time.

In a global economy that is mostly post-industrial, tourism is one of the biggest industries and employers world-wide.  World Tourism Day, sponsored by the United Nations World Tourism Organization, is this Sunday, September 27th.

Strife and tourism.  It may seem selfish, but WTD gives us an opportunity to think about the circular nature of strife in various countries and how it impacts the willingness of people to visit.

For example, the Egyptian military "accidentally" killed 8 Mexican tourists using a helicopter gunship, thinking they were terrorists ("Bodies of eight Mexican tourists killed by Egyptian forces are returned home," Guardian).

And other North African countries have experienced terrorist attacks on tourists--killing dozens--intended to destabilize the local economy ("Tunisia hotel attack: 38 killed, tourists flee," CNN).

But it's not exclusive to North Africa ("Bangkok bombing hits Thailand tourism," Telegraph; "Thailand bombing won't crush tourism-—commentary," CNBC).  The recent bombing in Thailand has led to a 17% drop in tourist visitation so far.

Greece has been in the news because of its economy and elections, and that may have put off some people's willingness to travel there, while others may be motivated to visit because they know their spending will have direct and needed positive impacts ("Greece Makes Fast Recovery in Tourism," Wall Street Journal.

The waves of migrants from Syria to Europe also shapes the images people may have of the impacted countries and could impact their willingness to visit, at least now.

... and the US has complicity in all of this because the invasion of Iraq, a country not previously entangled with Al-Qaeda, destabilized in many ways, most of the countries in North Africa.

The ugly tourist.  When I was in college, I read The Ugly American, which was a pretty damning assessment of US action overseas, especially in Asia.  While there is always grumbling about tourists in most communities dependent on tourism, there has been more attention paid to the issue lately, not about Americans, who are often universally derided, but the Chinese ("For Chinese Tourists Behaving Badly, A Government Blacklist" NPR).

This is an element of what we might call "soft public diplomacy," and how as citizens when we travel to other countries, for good and for bad, we represent our nation. And the same goes with how we treat visitors when they are in our country as guests. Even if we might resent their economic primacy. According to NPR:
Last year, Chinese tourists took 109 million trips overseas, 20 percent more than in 2013. Many host nations may be inclined to overlook misbehaving Chinese tourists because China now contributes more money to the global tourism industry than any other nation.
Tourists at the entrance to Park Guell, Barcelona. Photo: Carl Davis, Alamy.

Too many tourists.  Too many tourists is a different issue from ugly tourists and has been an issue for awhile in ecotourist destinations with limited carrying capacity, as well as particularly popular cities like Venice, which have significant infrastructure issues (it's a city built on islands and connected by water) in terms of accommodating large numbers of people, especially itinerant visitors.

One city where this is becoming an issue is Barcelona ("Barcelona’s New Mayor Wants to Send Tourists Packing," Bloomberg), where tourists overrun cultural assets such as La Boqueria food market--making it into a food court rather than a place to buy food to cook at home (this is a problem with Pike Place and other public markets in the US too)--or sites and parks associated with the famed architect Antoni Gaudi.

Impact of house and room renting services like Airbnb and HomeAway/Homestay on tourism and local consequences.  One element of too many tourists is the conversion of residential housing to tourist-serving properties.  The rise of house and room rental services like Airbnb has exacerbated this problem, especially in popular cities already experiencing an overheated property market.

Airbnb spent millions of dollars on ads and other lobbying to legalize visitor rentals of residential properties in NYC.  Photo from Gawker.

Many cities have regulations against this kind of property use, as a way to ward off negative consequences from business uses of residential properties in residential neighborhoods.

In NYC it's against the law, despite Airbnb's lobbying, while in San Francisco, there are new regulations to cover the industry ("S.F. to create city office to enforce Airbnb law," San Francisco Chronicle)--it's harder for SF to oppose such services, because Airbnb is based in SF.

The blog associated with the World Travel Market conference upcoming in London in November had a piece on this subject awhile back, talking about how such services will completely transform and disrupt the accommodations industry and I made the point that the valuations of the firms involved are a function of froth in the market, not based on reality.

The reality is that before mobile commerce enabled the "aggregation of otherwise dis-aggregated properties into a consumable product", there was rental of such properties, but through classified ads in specialized magazines.

Just like there was demand for urban living but the market wasn't producing housing for that segment, so people interested in urban living ended up living in the suburbs (as discussed in Leinberger's book The Option of Urbanism), there was a market for tourists/visitors staying in non-hotel properties other than bed and breakfasts, but it wasn't being adequately serviced.  Now it can be and is.

But likely it's not going to put hotels and motels out of business, as likely a majority of the market isn't willing to stay in such properties regardless of availability--that being said the companies are innovative and worth a great deal of money.

Likely mobile commerce enabled personal property rental also expands the market for tourism somewhat as lower cost accommodations means that more people can afford to travel, because they can stay in some of these properties for less than cost of traditional accommodations (on the other hand some of these private rentals are significantly more expensive than traditional ones).

I like such services (we use HomeAway not airbnb) because it gives you the opportunity to consume a place more like a resident, if that is your intent.

One of the problems with such services though is that they can end up diverting residential properties to tourist use--renting use of a property for $100 or more per night usually generates more than the average cost to rent the same unit as a traditional tenant.  This is alleged to be a problem in Los Angeles, according to the report AIRBNB, RISING RENT, AND THE HOUSING CRISIS IN LOS ANGELES published by the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy (LAANE).

Studies of property providers show that a majority of the listed properties on such services, especially in high cost cities like NYC, are by real estate/property professionals, not individuals looking to make a bit of extra money. See "The Shape of Airbnb's business" and "The Shape of Airbnb's business (II)" by Tom Slee from his Whimsley blog.

US Federal Government shutdown and federal parks closures.   Once again there is the possibility of a federal shutdown, because of conflicts between the Republican party, which controls Congress (albeit barely) and the President/Democratic party ("Senate GOP takes lead to prevent government shutdown," The Hill).

According to the US Travel Association ("Shutdown Would Cost U.S. Travel Economy At Least $185M per Day"), a federal government shutdown would cost the U.S. travel sector at least $185 million per day in economic output due to lost activity and affect 530,000 travel-related jobs due to temporary layoffs, reduced wages and fewer hours worked.

Local residents complain about the closing of the Grand Canyon National Park
Protest: Locals complain about the Grand Canyon National Park closure which is costing the community in lost tourism.  Image via the Daily Mail.

In those parts of the country with federal parks and public lands that are key elements of local tourism, there are more specific and hard felt effects on local economies from shutdowns.

This is why for some time I have argued that local and state parks and tourism planning needs to include contingency planning for federal shutdowns, and state and federal budget cutbacks ("Federal shutdown as another example of why local jurisdictions should have more robust contingency and master planning processes" and "Contingency planning in parks planning: Montgomery County Maryland edition").

According to the NPS report Effects of the October 2013 Government Shutdown on National Park Service Visitor Spending in Gateway Communities:
• A 7.88 million decline in overall NPS October visitation resulting in a loss of $414 million NPS visitor spending within gateway communities across the country;
• Gateway communities near forty five parks experienced a loss of more than $2 million in NPS related October visitor spending;
• Five states experienced a decline of over $20 million in NPS October visitor spending;
• Each dollar of funding for the 14 parks opened with state funding before the end of the shutdown generated an estimated $10 in visitor spending.
It turns out that the National Park Service does allow states to step in and pay for operation of facilities during shutdowns ("Feds will let states pay to reopen national parks," Associated Press).

But it's best to plan ahead and have those agreements in place before a shutdown, not once a shutdown is underway.

It happens we had a planned a trip to Gettysburg during this period, but Gettysburg is an unusual federal park in that the museum is controlled by the Gettysburg Foundation, not the NPS, and many of the grounds of the Battlefield are not directly under federal control.

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At 8:48 AM, Anonymous charlie said...

Seeing more and more short term stay apartments in DC popping up. Google aparthotel. They are targeting foreign visitors to get around the law.

More and more I think the quest for redistribution has resulted in a heavily weakened city institutions. That and a weak civic sector is where corruption can thrive.

The highly unseemly rise of Uber is another example of this.

At 9:50 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

dammit, I was wracking my brain for an article/city that had the same issue, but I couldn't remember. Barcelona is the one. This is a new article, but I think there were some earlier in the summer.

I will have to revise this piece in recognition of that particular issue.


At 10:02 AM, Anonymous charlie said...

Also this:

The Chinese tourist thing is a big problem.

Luckily, we get very little of it here, and the majority of Chinese tourists seem to be small group (2-3) rather than the mass tours.

No question that Barcelona has a tourist problem, small city hard to get into to thanks to geography.

At 10:11 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

Not sure what you mean about "quest for redistribution has resulted in weakened city institutions" in terms of this issue?

Do you mean the "quest for redistribution" and "deferred compensation for local govt. employees through pensions" as encumbering budgets, no longer sustainable in a low growth economy?

Aaron Renn wrote a piece awhile ago about Carmel, IN and how they've focused their budget priorities so that they have money to invest in infrastructure and other economic improvements with long term ROI.

Separately, the rise of services like Uber is an element, at least I think, of individual adoption of the Neoliberalist approach, and moving away from collectively supplied or regulated goods and services.

Another side of individualism.

At 11:14 AM, Anonymous charlie said...

US cities in the 1970s starting become vehicles of redistribution. Both in terms of Marion barry "lets fire all the white people" and also in term of Larry NYC employee benefits.

And of course a massive drawdown in terms of infrastructure and other investments. IF you want a unified theory, the Growth Machine was happy to go along with that and invest in office buildings instead.

As a a side effect, city institutions got beaten down and drowned in the bathtub.

I'm reading Jacques Pepin on the Origins of AIDS this week and how much Marion Barry reminds me of a african independence leader destroying all institutions in a post colonial orgy. Of course this the federal city and you can't destroy that.

In any case, Barcelona and other European cities are experimenting with the same game.

Doubly interesting in Barcelona since the independence movement claims that Madrid has to continue to pay the pensions of workers.

What you need to fight the Growth Machine/Uber isn't redistribution , it is strong civic institiitions. Or in Pepin's case public health.

See the french court decisions on UberPOP which is hard to imagine (although would be permitted) in the US. I don't quite understand UBer in NYC as all the ones I used did have TLC licenses of some sort.

Contract car2go, which is at least paying millions in tax, to uber. I see no reason why DC can't put a 35% tax on uber rides.

At 11:50 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

OK, that's what I thought.

The flip side though is that people thought they were creating civic institutions by doing that.

The thing is they were all give with nothing in return.

Note that this is discussed by Fred Siegel in _Future Once Happened Here_, including about DC.

He called it "dependent individualism" then, now calls it the "entitlement economy."

And it does have allusions to destruction of traditional institutions, which were seen not as "objective" institutions socializing people, but institutions of the oppressive white regime... hence, reference to riots as "rebellion".

(I had a bunch of conversations with Marshall Brown, Kwame's father, about this, back when I was on H St. Main St. as he is good friends with the now director of HSMS. He was one of the chief field lieutenants for Marion Barry.)


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