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Is fixing tourism possible?

Steve Campbell

It seems that everyone has a story or two to tell about the new wave of tourists this summer, particularly on countylive.ca’s blog. There were good comments, and lots of frustration vented. Ridiculous U-turns, insane driving habits, flipping fingers to pedestrians on crosswalks and, of course, the (now-acceptable) randomly picnicking on peoples’ lawns, and peeing on rose bushes.

I have continued to explore this, thanks to friends and colleagues who sent me links to other discussions on the subject. It turns out, this is not unique to Prince Edward County, but is a global problem. Apparently the wealthy and privileged vacationers are spreading like a virus into other destinations as well.

How do they deal with it? In Venice, they actually fine tourists for bad behaviour. In Florence, they had a great idea: t-shirts printed with rules for tourist behaviour, as a local reminder of the sensitivities of the residents. Worthy of note is that one of their problems is tourists writing their names on, or carving names into, national historic monuments and churches! And you thought we had problems!

Closer to home, let’s explore our situation. One blogger, who happens to pilot one of the wine tour limos, noted that locals were also more aggressive in their actions. I agree. That’s because we hit a ‘combustion point’ by the end of July. The annoying tourists annoy the locals; the annoyed locals express their frustration in return. Very quickly, nobody is happy! The tourists feel they don’t get the respect their privileged, entitled positions demand, and the locals feel we do not receive the respect we deserve.

Here’s one of my favorite stories from a local restaurant owner: “A mother and her kid were at the table, and the kid picks up a glass bowl full of sugar, and smashes it on the floor.” “Okay, this happens,” the owner said. “If the mother had said ‘Oh, I’m terribly sorry’ it would have been okay, but she said ‘Excuse me, can you get someone to clean this up?’ ” Ouch! “So, when I gave her the bill, I added ‘Sugar bowl & sugar: $20’ at the bottom … and she paid it!” Interesting approach. More on that later.

Wellington took the brunt of misbehavin’ this summer (Success is a double-edged sword!). Between the several new businesses and the weekend farmer’s market, this summer was a boom time for the village. With it came an almost impassible Main Street, and suddenly parking availability became the monster no-one knew was coming. Add this to the strange actions of vehicles and their drivers, whipping around suddenly, backing into traffic, and becoming impatient with the village’s only traffic light and crosswalk, and Happy Success quickly became the Nightmare on Main Street.

Is a solution possible? An 18-page paper presented to a heritage and tourism group at University of Waterloo by R.W. Butler explores the often devastating effects of tourism on the environment and residents. He explains why many of our World Wonders (Stonehenge and Chichen Itza are examples) have been fenced in and roped off to visitors. Simply too many feet, wearing down the icons, and the uncontrollable inconsideration of the visitors at major heritage sites. He explores why many efforts to control tourism have been tried, and failed, and suggests that we need to educate our visitors as the only feasible alternative. But how, since we can’t reach out to Toronto and grab them by their throats?

My first idea was to form a TA group – Tourists Anonymous – with a 12 step program to help the rude and self-centred to realize everyone in the world is not obligated to snap to it and serve their every whim. But seriously, I think we need to educate them here, on site. A friend of mine suggested caps that read: “Let’s Make the County Civil Again.” That would be a good start.

This got me to thinking. We’ve identified the attitudes of this new wave as the problem, but the solution lies with us. We have a long history of being a friendly, polite and helpful people. The problem is: we treat these rude entitled people as if they are normal visitors, and reasonable people here to enjoy what we have to offer. And they’re not. They have not earned, or deserve, the caring respect we show to our thousands of regulars who truly enjoy our hospitality and our attitudes.

I think it’s time we target the offenders, and start to push back. We treat them as if they are normal, reasonable people, when we should be treating them like a six-year-old brat at your kid’s birthday party who doesn’t obey the ‘house rules’, and has no concept of proper social behaviour. Sort of like a kid who might suddenly smash a sugar bowl on the floor – without concern or regret – and without a word of reprimand from the parent.

Personally, in my business, I’ve turned away print customers simply because our approaches to a project don’t fit. I work by request, not demand, and trying to fit a square peg into a round hole leaves everyone dissatisfied. There is no harm in reminding oblivious people that they must not act like royalty, doing what they want, when they want, where they want. Come to think of it, even Prince Charles and Camilla exhibited way more interest and way less privilege and entitlement than our New Wave! And they deserve it way more, being genuine royalty and all.

For restaurants, perhaps a sign at the entrance: “Tourist season is busy. Please respect our staff and other customers.” This is a polite way of saying: “Calm the f@#$ down and relax!” It might not hurt to put signs on our main highways: “Welcome to the County … Please respect our land and our people.” This is the soft approach. The bulk of the battles will take place on our shops and on the streets, where we might need to remind people of our ‘house rules’: “We don’t do that here.” We don’t need to be belligerent.

But we do need to teach them how to behave.

Filed Under: News from Everywhere ElseSteve Campbell

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