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Is tourism a trap for Atlantic Canadians?

Can tourism strangle a community's identity?
Can tourism strangle a community's identity? - Belle DeMont

Tourism brings in money and provides employment

Tourism is big business in Canada, and business is thriving. In Atlantic Canada, the tourism industry is booming. But is what’s good for Atlantic Canada good for Atlantic Canadians?

On a national level, data compiled by Statistics Canada shows that the tourism industry supports 1.8 million jobs, and that number is expected to rise.

It’s good news for Canada — and not just those looking for a job. Throughout the first nine months of 2018, tourism spending increased 5.9 per cent from the previous year, bringing in an astounding $80.8 billion. A record 18.6 million international tourists came through the true north strong and free throughout the same period, marking a 1.2 per cent increase from 2017.

The financial impact is incredible, but it comes at a cost to a country’s permanent residents.

Calling multiple governmental departments in Newfoundland and Labrador in an attempt to learn more about various (read: negative) impacts of tourism on permanent residents, it was unsurprising to be met with hesitancy.

One person close to the industry, who declined to go on record, explained that “a community must give away a part of itself” to accommodate tourism activity in their areas, but it would be expected that “tourism management principles” would be put in place to ensure the sustainability of a tourism-based business or service. Information on what these “principles” entail was not outlined.

Does St. John's need to sell its soul?

It begs the question: exactly how much is a city, town, or community supposed to “give away” to accommodate visitors?

In St. John’s, residents in the historic Quidi Vidi neighbourhood are frustrated by the influx of tourism in the fishing village, in part due to thriving businesses such as Mallard Cottage restaurant and inn, and the Quidi Vidi Brewery.

This isn’t a region-specific issue brought forth by a jaded renter millennial – it’s a global pandemic.

A city source said their offices receive tons of calls from locals complaining about visitors’ behaviour, citing simple but irritating issues such as illegal parking, blocked driveways and, in some cases, a disruption in peace, with some particularly bold visitors even knocking on their doors and asking to use their bathroom.

Do we risk giving away too much? And how will we know when we’ve reached that point?

I’m not talking about giving away local secrets like where to get the best brunch, or which bar has the best whiskey specials. I worry about giving away the best of our city, our neighbourhoods and our homes, leaving locals scrounging for crumbs of the life they once knew.

I wonder sometimes if I’m part of the problem. Living in the downtown core of St. John’s, I happily flaunt my city’s greatness, telling tourists about amazing places to eat, cool venues to see local musicians and, of course, where to get the most “Instagram-worthy” snaps of the colourful rowhouses dubbed “Jelly Bean Row.”

I currently live in one of these adorable rowhouses, but I’m wondering how long I’ll be able to to do so, as Airbnb continues to take over my neighbourhood.

There’s massive appeal for property owners — why rent an apartment to a local for, say, $1,200 a month (or approximately $40 a day), when a traveller may be willing to shell out $200 a night for the same accommodations? A property owner providing nightly rentals could make my $1,200 monthly rent in less than a week.

This isn’t a region-specific issue brought forth by a jaded renter millennial – it’s a global pandemic.

Grounding Airbnb

Hop across the pond to Spain, where legislation has been created to shut down holiday rentals in a response to “touristification.”

In some neighbourhoods, tourists outnumber local residents, and the impact is devastating for locals, who report a decrease in quality of life when tourist season strikes and populations can double in size. The city’s infrastructure simply cannot support the increase.

Tourists put nature underfoot, literally

The pressure from rising population numbers isn’t just being felt in cities, either. Nature is also feeling the impact.

Look at Lake Elsinore, Calif., where vast fields of blooming poppies are inspiring tens of thousands to flock to the area to capture the beauty. While visitation to the area is allowed, people are wandering off the designated trails, literally crushing the delicate ecosystem with every footstep.

Here in Canada, the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society has openly criticized Parks Canada for putting more focus on boosting tourism than conservation efforts. In recent years, Parks Canada slashed its budget for conservation, while allocating more money for tourism and development.

With “ecotourism” growing in popularity, it’s not just new development and construction that is harming the natural landscape. The quest for the ultimate view can cause problems, too, when people depart from designated paths to blaze a trail of their own. While this may seem relatively harmless, in reality it can be detrimental to local flora and fauna.

The Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society national executive director has gone on record to say that regarding our national parks, we are at risk of “loving them to death.”

Safety over selfies

- Belle DeMont
- Belle DeMont

Straying from the path isn’t just harming plants and animals — it’s harming people as well. In an effort to snap the best possible photo, tourists are dying all around the world in a new trend called “selfiecide” — an accidental death that occurred when trying to take a selfie or photo.

A 2018 study published in the Journal of Family Medicine and Primary Care noted that over 250 people died from “selfie-related deaths” from 2011-2017. Though many of these deaths occurred in countries like India, Russia, the United States and Pakistan, there have been similar incidents in Canada.

Even when there are no cameras involved, people often take unnecessary risks when enjoying a visit to a breathtaking location, ignoring warning signs put in place for their safety.

In Atlantic Canada, visitors have died in tourist hotspots like Peggy’s Cove in Nova Scotia and Cape Spear in Newfoundland and Labrador, while trying to get a better look at the ocean raging below them.

While these incidents make headlines, they don’t make it into tourism ads — excluded along with real and obvious issues like xenophobia, racism, bigotry, poverty, homelessness, litter, property neglect, and road maintenance (or lack thereof).

2018 was a record year for travel to Canada, and with the country competing to be one of the “top ten” international destinations by 2025, we could be in for a bumpy ride. Buckle up.

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