• by Kevin Murphy

Tourism, Cities & Property

One of this summers biggest topics was the situation of tourists and their impact on communities and businesses. Most notably the visits of cruise ships that unload enormous amounts of tourists in Venice thus straining the quality of life and local infrastructure. But Venice is certainly not alone as other European and UK cities have become magnets for mass tourism visits. On the other side of the Atlantic the American cities are beginning to try and control the number of tourist visitors by limiting the availability of hotel properties in a report by Bloomberg.

Charleston, South Carolina

One of those American cities is 350 year old Charleston in the state of South Carolina. The city has become a favourite destination for its horse drawn carriages, architecture and its southern style ambience. Recently at a local zoning board meeting three new hotel properties were approved in just one session that will take their place along with many others to meet the visitor demands.

The former Mayor of Charleston Joseph Riley presided over the city for 40 years ending in 2016 and the city has now become mired in with infighting over the hotel property issue. The new Mayor John Tecklenberg vowed in his campaign to stop all new hotel construction construction.

The Mayor said :

“Every property that has the possibility of becoming a hotel will become a hotel unless we act.”

“Tourism has been a blessing, but it has reached a point where it is impacting our quality of life.”

The hospitality stats for Charleston reflect its popularity with visitors as there are now 4,920 hotel rooms and if all goes as planned new construction with an additional 2,600 if plans get the green light for development. Other potential developments are for a parking lot to become a 115-room condo-hotel project, and on the city’s waterfront, a former port authority site would become a 225-room luxury hotel.

Local preservationist Kristopher King is not for ending all new construction but wants Charleston to be a 'working city' thats not just about taking care of visitors.

Mr. King in Bloomberg:

"The razing of office buildings in favor of hotels, partly because of the high cost of providing parking for office workers, has been a major concern lately. An office building needs significantly more parking spots than a hotel does, and that’s pushing developers to favour lodging."

King cited the term being used to describe the locals frustration with the visitor influx as a “cultural irritation index” and while Charleston may not be on the same playing field as a Venice is but Mr King says:

“Charleston’s not quite there, but my fear is we’re getting close to that.”

Rules are in place with specific zoning locations for new hotels and also is a crackdown on Airbnb short term rental properties. The issue of affordable housing is rather similar to Britain as hotel developers would have to pay from $200,000 to $600,000 into a fund for local housing needs and additional rules prohibiting the displacement of office buildings.

A new scheme for affordable housing can be found in Portland, Maine benefitting locals and even for those who work in the hotel industry. The plan has hoteliers building one affordable housing unit for every 28 new hotel rooms built or pay into the housing fund at a rate of $3,806 per hotel room.

In a review the Portland Planning Board former planning board says:

'...80% of newly employed hospitality workers couldn’t afford to comfortably rent in the city."

“Every time there was a new hotel allowed, you’d hear that we shouldn’t allow another one."

In the American west where outdoor recreation is a big tourism draw small and mid-size destinations are also trying to limit the flow of visitors not only for the local residents but for the outdoor scenery and recreation. One location for this is Moab in the state of Utah. The mountains and trails are popular for bicyclists and hikers with city leaders passing earlier this year a temporary ban for new hotel and lodging pending an assessment for the development of land-use plans.

City Manager Joel Linares:

“We don’t want to be seen as anti-tourists and anti-growth,”

"Unlike bigger cities with diverse economies, tourism is all we’ve got.”

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