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Know thy tourist base; diversify your economy

When household budgets are tight because of expensive necessities, luxuries get pared down. What does this mean for cities, when so many are reliant on tourism as a major economic driver? Keep energy trends in mind when planning - and make sure there are other industries in the mix.

Summary: 

When household budgets are tight because of expensive necessities, luxuries get pared down. What does this mean for cities, when so many are reliant on tourism as a major economic driver? Keep energy trends in mind when planning - and make sure there are other industries in the mix.

Photo by Bob JagendorfWhen household budgets are tight because of expensive necessities, luxuries get pared down. What does this mean for cities, when, as citymayors.com (an international network of mayors) points out, "for many cities urban tourism is their number one industry," financing growth and providing income for large swathes of the population.

How dependent is your municipality on this activity? If you don't already know, some of the tips in the 1999 report Strategies for Monitoring Tourism in Your Community's Economy might be of use in figuring out the current state of tourist activity. A study of tourism in New York City found that ⅔ of the city's visitors came from the Northeast region - but they account for less than ⅓ of total tourist spending. International visitors, on the other hand, account for 15% of total visitors and over 40% of spending. (Tourism and New York City's economy)

If we were to assume business as usual in the cheap energy front, this analysis might suggest a concerted program of courting more international visitors. The realities of energy uncertainty, though, make this an unwise approach. As one of the U.S. cities best served by transit, refocusing on those regional visitors - even if they're less profitable - might be a better approach.

But New York is a legendary, iconic city, far more than just a vacation destination. The things that made it a great city in the first place (innovative people, international finance, a port) provide some economic activities that do not rely on people having spare money. But what about places that have grown to rely on tourism?

Here's an example of one: Torbay, a coastal area and popular vacation destination in South West England. As some sectors of tourism decline, "Over-reliance on the [tourism] industry has led to a predominantly seasonal, low-wage economy with unemployment significantly above the GB average. As a result, Torbay has almost the lowest GDP in the South West. Parts of Torbay exhibit symptoms of severe deprivation, poor employment prospects being a contributory factor." (Adopted Torbay Local Plan) The one strength noted in Torbay's plan is fishing, though they note that there's not much processing done locally and that part of the industry could stand to grow. Working in a cannery may not be as appealing as folding towels in a resort as a first job, but the job's more likely to exist in the wake of peak oil. So it's back to that Post Carbon refrain: produce locally.

Photo credit: Bob Jagendorf

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Post Carbon Cities: Helping local governments understand and respond to the challenges of peak oil and global warming.
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