Asked and answered
By Linda Hale, Valley of the Moon Alliance
Tourists want experiential adventures. They want experiences that create memories.
This was the consensus of speakers at the Napa Vision 2050 forum on April 1, “Exploring the Tourism-Based Economy” held at the Napa Valley Country Club. Just off the Silverado Trail, views of the fairways and vistas take your breath away. It’s a world apart from Highway 29, which bisects Napa Valley and provides access to homes and businesses. The idea behind this public forum was to hear experts talk about the benefits and costs to communities of a tourism-driven economy. I went to find out how other communities are handling their meteoric increase in tourism and events.
The first speaker, Dr. Samuel Mendlinger, has lived in more than 20 countries. His research has led him to support responsible and sustainable growth in developing countries. He gave examples of towns, villages, and islands that have handled an influx of tourists and the building bonanza of hotels and resorts. Food tourism is big in Tanzania, for example, and has raised the standard of living.
The example that struck home for me, however, was set by the Balearic Islands off the coast of Spain and particularly their capital city of Palma de Majorca. I had lived in Spain during the building boom in the 1970s that turned sleepy villages like Benidorm on the Spanish coast into tourist destinations. Even the bullfighter Manuel Diaz “El Cordobes” entered the arena and put his money in real estate there. Over 450 hotels now line the Benidorm beaches on Spain’s Mediterranean coast and you can stay today at bargain prices.
The Balearic Islands are an autonomous region of Spain with hard-won political freedom. People there knew that the new European Union could bring millions of tourists flocking to their islands. The regional government decided to put livability issues first. Local community members and politicians planned for growth, insured higher wages, and put an emphasis on education and infrastructure. They decided to address local needs such as housing, and schools, and today they have a university that is world-class. Because politicians did some long-term planning, they saved the island communities from becoming solely service-based and dependent on tourist dollars.
So, is growth always good for a community?
There are some long-held myths that many of us believe to be true: growth will provide needed tax revenue; we have to grow to create jobs; and growth will create more wealth for everyone. Eben Fodor of Fodor & Associates in Eugene, Oregon, debunked these myths. He is the author of the recently published book, Better, Not Bigger: How to Take Control of Urban Growth and Improve Your Community.
He revealed that development requires high capital outlays for road improvements, water, sewage treatment, public transportation, schools, and police and fire services, among other things. Capital Appreciation Bonds enter the picture since governments have to borrow money to cover these costs. These are interest-free bonds for 30 years, with multi-million dollar balloon payments due at the end.
And growth does not increase employment. Unemployment actually goes up because more people are competing for a limited number of jobs, especially if the jobs do not go to locals. Tourist and hospitality work is often seasonal, but the workers have to be housed year-round. Tourism actually induces urban growth since investors see hotels and shopping malls as a sure investment. Fodor pointed out that there is an “opportunity cost” to a single-industry or product-based economy. What other potential economic activities are being displaced?
Of course, no community forum on growth and sustainability would be complete without talking about traffic. Dr. Susan L. Handy of U.C. Davis has studied the relationship between transportation and land, and particularly the impact of land use on travel behavior.
You would think that widening roads or creating freeways would solve the traffic delays. However, creating more capacity actually creates more impacts.
People in cities like San Diego jump on their freeways to go get a fantastic cup of coffee across town; they use the freeways at high speeds to run errands. Supply and demand create more impacts and more costs for communities. Dr. Handy warned that we also run the danger of creating more access to land which makes pristine rural areas more attractive for development. Low density homes on rural residential lots require more driving to get to work, schools, and grocery stores. Even in Texas they are feeling the effects of this paradigm. The cost of driving has gone down and in 2000 researchers thought peak-driving had been reached. Unfortunately the lower cost of gasoline contributes to long commutes and more traffic on our highways. Dr. Handy stated that land use and transportation have to be coordinated before projects are approved. She concluded by saying that, “Two-lane highways in rural areas where wineries and event centers are built ultimately create safety issues because of speeds and traffic congestion. Parking needs to be part of the discussion too.”
So we are all in this boat together. We need experts as well as your input to create viable communities for the future. Find more takeaways from the Napa Vision 2050 at napavision2050.org.
VOTMA is committed to providing a forum for research, information, education and recommendations on projects that affect the environmental qualities of the valley communities. More at votma.org.