What's it like living in a tourist town?
January 17, 2022 7:12 AM   Subscribe

What's it like living in a tourism-focused town? I imagine there must be good points (access to amenities that a non-tourist town of that size couldn't support?) along with the bad stuff.

I live in New York City, which is also a tourist town, and have spent a fair amount of time in Amsterdam, where the ratio of tourists to residents is even higher, and I'm curious what it's like in smaller places.
posted by moonmilk to Society & Culture (32 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
I live in a small tourist city in western Canada. The most difficult thing is housing prices are driven up by people who are looking to rent out places as vacation homes. Not just big investment corps buy, but a lot of folks are acquiring multiple properties to list on Airbnb. This makes housing tough and next to impossible for minimum wage earners to find accommodation. This was a problem prior to the pandemic and I only imagine it’s become worse as staff shortages are a thing most places. A lot of things close in the winter here, especially restaurants. In the summer it’s such a car-centric place that most visitors have to drive, poorly. They don’t take transit and that’s one of many reasons transit never seems to improve here. As for other amenities, I can’t think of any. There isn’t a rich culture so there are no cultural events.

One good thing is that we have seen the emergence of more short term acting transportation options (bicycles and scooters).

I cannot wait to move.
posted by nathaole at 7:27 AM on January 17 [6 favorites]

Lived in Charleston SC before moving to NYC (which I didn't really feel as tourist based)

-Amazing restaurants and nightlife much more than would support regular population
-everyone wants to visit you
-you can be a tourist in your own town
-town is more liberal/progressive than it would be in some instances

-Housing prices
-Additional traffic
-Less people interested in community involvement
posted by sandmanwv at 8:10 AM on January 17 [3 favorites]

I live in a small tourist town in Florida. nathaole is spot on with the real estate point; housing prices are ridiculous, and whole neighborhoods are beginning to hollow out as residential properties are being converted to AirBnBs. It's a big problem.

Traffic is periodically nuts, especially when festivals or other special events are happening.

Amenities are really mixed; I can walk to at least 6 different ice cream shops from my house, but no grocery stores. Restaurants tend to be good, except that there's also a LOT of places that are here just because they look good on Instagram, not because anybody who knew any better would actually want to eat there.

There's a big emphasis here on appearances, which is a mixed blessing. Everything is very cute, but often at the expense of utility or common sense.

I'd say the worst part about it is the tourists themselves. A shockingly high percentage of people who come here don't treat it like it's an actual town with people living in it, they think of it as a theme park, so don't consider that throwing trash on the ground or double-parking in front of an elementary school or doing an illegal u-turn through a crowded intersection or leading their shrieking bachelorette party down a quiet residential side street at 2 in the morning might not actually be all that cool or good.

But man, it really is nice here. There's a reason all these people keep visiting.
posted by saladin at 8:17 AM on January 17 [11 favorites]

I used to live in Manitou Springs, Colorado, population 5,000. Remember in The Prestige when Robert Angier stayed at that fancy hotel in the snowy Colorado mountains? That's supposed to be the Cliff House in Manitou.

Manitou's attracted tourists from the getgo in the 1870s, when tuberculosis patients from back east arrived in droves seeking a cure by way of the dry mountain air and the dozen or so mineral springs dotting the town. But now it's the home for lots of things -- the Pikes Peak Railroad, the Pikes Peak Hill Climb (race cars to 14,000 feet!), the Pikes Peak Marathon, the Manitou Incline, the only place in a 50-minute radius for legal weed, all sorts of quirky parades and festivals, gobs of restaurants and shops, and just the charm of a little twisty Victorian town nestled into the embrace of the surrounding mountains. Most people visiting Colorado Springs make a point to stop in Manitou because it's super charming. From above on a wintry evening, it looks like an electric snowglobe.

But because it's nestled so tightly into the slopes of the mountains and foothills, and because there's such a glut of cars, traffic is an absolute nightmare. There's a single main thoroughfare that's also frequented with crossing pedestrians, and Ruxton Ave, which gets you to the Incline and the railway. Streetside parking for residents is a continuing issue, and after too many harried grocery dropoffs when I couldn't find a parking place within a ten-minute walk of my house, I just stopped taking the car out completely on weekends -- or if I did leave, I made a point to be gone all day.

Away from the tourist strip, life is pretty normal year round. But when you live in the downtown area as I did, you discover there's a summer Manitou and a winter Manitou. We have tourists year round, but summer is the busiest time, and for the most part there are roles to be played: locals work the shops, tourists spend the money. When the tourists return after a peaceful winter, it's a little overwhelming. You've become accustomed to quiet shops and empty sidewalks. When you do go out in town in the summer, you wander around like an NPC. You offer to hold the camera for group photos. You give directions and local recommendations -- just like you do in NYC -- and feel a tiny bit of smugness that your opinion carries more weight because you live there, and you know.

Shopping is weird. You can buy armloads of artisan pottery and more Pikes Peak tshirts than you could wear in a lifetime, but buying, like, dinner ingredients or a shirt that doesn't reek of patchouli takes you literally out of city limits.

But you can get saltwater taffy year round, wander through prettied-up streets that feel more than a little like a theme park, scare yourself silly walking through the arcade after midnight. There's flowers and parks to enjoy at your leisure. It was fun for a year, but I'm glad to be off the parade route now.
posted by mochapickle at 8:21 AM on January 17 [6 favorites]

Greetings from Edinburgh. A curious aspect of tourism, seems to be that most visitors go only to particular places and move between them only in particular ways. This means it is not very hard to turn off a side street and find tranquillity just a short distance from a main attraction. This also means most people get lost in the same places and ask the same questions to try to find their way again.

Exactly where people go is quite influenced by social media reviews - this means that if an event or venue is popular at a busy time, it effectively becomes impossible for most people, including locals, to get to. This is particularly the case here during festival time. The festival also drives some locals out of the city for a few weeks, turns others into irritated bystanders or money making opportunists. In general it is great fun for all concerned however.

Many people who move to the city are those who have fallen in love with some aspect of it on a visit. If they came during a warm summer heatwave then they may find it hard to cope with 2 weeks of rain in January. The problem of AirB&B colonisation of the city, as with anywhere similar it seems - is chronic.
posted by rongorongo at 8:22 AM on January 17 [14 favorites]

I've lived in a beach town/tourist destination (in North Carolina). Such a relief when the season ends (in Santa Cruz, they shoot off fireworks to celebrate). On the other hand, so dead in the off season.

And I've lived near tourism-focused San Francisco and the amount of acquaintances who'd blow into town and expect me to just appear up there (during rush hour, sorry we didn't tell you earlier!) and act as tour guide began to get annoying.
posted by Rash at 8:25 AM on January 17 [4 favorites]

I lived in Santa Fe in the late 1990s. Seeing you call "New York City" makes me reflect on what it means to be a "tourist town". NYC has so, so much more going on than tourism; you could take all the tourists away and it'd still be NYC. Santa Fe is more tourist-dependent than NYC.

But living fulltime in a tourist town makes you quickly value the non-touristy stuff very quick. Santa Fe has a lot of depth to it. It's phenomenally beautiful, it has a unique and fascinating culture, and it has a sliding scale of people from non-tourist to tourist. For instance Santa Fe is famous as a city for art. Many of the local artists started out as tourists, or selling to tourists. But then there's all the indigenous art, by which I mean Pueblo Indians and other Native Americans, and they long pre-date the tourists. Also home grown artists like the collective that created Meow Wolf. Which benefited from the infrastructure and exposure from the tourist economy, but really started as its own local thing.

My main daily interaction with the tourist economy in Santa Fe was dining. Sure, the big fancy restaurants are nice to have around. But you don't want to eat there every day, probably can't afford to, and pretty soon you're grateful for the local diner that makes a great bowl of green where the staff knows your name. Also you get friendly with the folks who work at the fancy places, they learn your face. And then you find that if you want to come for breakfast all you have to do is drop by and say "Hey, it's Nelson, I'd love to come in" and magically a 90 minute wait becomes a 15 minute wait. Insider status, a common bond.

Santa Fe tourism gets intolerable in August and September, particularly around Santa Fe Market. At that time a lot of locals just hide out and give the city over to the visitors. Everyone grumbles, but everyone also appreciates the money that activity brings in.
posted by Nelson at 8:26 AM on January 17 [5 favorites]

I've lived in a few of these, but there is a difference between a "tourist town" and a "resort town."

In a tourist town, there is a reason to live there other than whatever the attraction is. Regular, non-tourist people have lives, jobs, kids, etc., that have nothing to do with the attraction that draws tourists. Charleston, SC, mentioned by sandmanwv, is a good example. I've lived there.

In a resort town, the only reason people live there or go there is the attraction. Outside of the attraction there isn't really a reason to go there, and everything in the town is set up to serve the needs of the tourists. Nantucket Island (I've lived there), or maybe one of the ski resort towns like Vail, are examples of this.

You can move to a tourist town, have a life, get a job, raise a family, and never have to really interact with the tourists unless you're in the area that draws them.

In a resort town, your life revolves around the tourists and the attraction that draws them. This is true even if you're not in a tourist facing occupation. When I lived on Nantucket, I met school teachers and firefighters who had to move their families out of their regular rental (because there is no way they could afford to buy a house there) into whatever they could find every summer so that their landlord could rent out that place for an astronomical sum.
posted by ralan at 8:28 AM on January 17 [6 favorites]

I lived in Southwest DC for many years. The amenities (museums, etc) are wonderful, and it was nice to have things in my backyard to take visiting family to.

There were definite aggravations.

Getting basic commuting and errands done during tourist/protest season could be stressful and sometimes even dangerous - it wasn't uncommon for me to be nearly squished by a tour bus on my walk home, or for a gaggle of inattentive spring break middle schoolers to nearly push me off a Metro platform. I got used to staying alert.

My in-laws retired to a tourist town in Florida. They enjoy the weather and amenities. During the summer, their neighborhood is hollowed out. During the winter, there's a lot of traffic and crowding.
posted by champers at 8:30 AM on January 17

Northwest Montana:

Bad - Not understanding that grizzly bears are real, not cute and will kill you. And the black bears are also problems. Last year I ran into a black bear about 4 minutes up a trail head. Although not aggressive, it didn't run and approached me. I turned around and posted a quick note at the trail head. A woman read it, put in her ear buds and began to run up the trail.

Bad - Housing. As others have said, tourists visit, them some of them move here or buy second homes. Home prices have doubled in the last three years and more and more young people and middle to low income people are going to be priced out of the housing and then rental markets.

Bad - No respect for the land. Littering, double-parking at trail heads, picnicing on boat ramps, being loud in nature for no good reason. Etc.

The only Good I have is more and better restaurants. Though clearly, the place that serves mostly kale salads and bone broth is not dependent upon long-term locals.
posted by ITravelMontana at 8:34 AM on January 17 [2 favorites]

I live in Truckee, CA which is a ski town.

Gorgeous scenery
Lots of outdoor adventure stuff like skiing, mountain biking, running, hiking
Lots of outdoor sports programs for kids
People want to visit
Nice restaurants

Housing prices
Traffic on weekends, especially people unused to snow driving
Some neighborhoods are only 10% full time residents, which is lonely
High gas and food prices
posted by carolr at 8:43 AM on January 17

I'm in southeast England. I don't actually live in a tourist spot myself, but the next small town along the railway line from me is on the coast, and it's a common summer destination for day-trippers. The result is that on a sunny summer weekend, it's often next to impossible to even get on the train to go there: train pulls in, doors open, Londoners try not to fall out of them, people on the platform stay on the platform. And if you do make it, the place is so heaving with holidaymakers that you wonder why you bothered. The narrow pavements of the shopping streets in the town centre are thronged, the streets themselves are nose to tail traffic, the beaches are densely populated, the pubs and cafes are all full, there's a queue stretching down the pavement from the ice cream shop.

Go out of season or on a greyer day, and the place isn't dead by any means, it's just a normal small English coastal town with a slightly odd mix of shops. So at those times, you get to enjoy some of the benefits (quirky, interesting shops that a small town probably wouldn't usually be able to support) and all of the sea views without the crowds. When I was house-hunting I happened only to visit at such times, and I regretted the fact that I couldn't afford to live there (I like quirky shops and sea views). As it turns out though, I think I probably dodged a bullet by ending up somewhere more off the beaten path. I'd find those busy periods very difficult to live with.

Comparing with the town where I live, I would say there's also a price premium associated with shopping somewhere that gets a lot of business from tourists. For instance, there's an upmarket convenience store on one of those shopping streets, and it sells good food, but it's targeting Londoners, and you're paying London prices if you shop there.
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 8:48 AM on January 17 [4 favorites]

I'm just coming off almost five years on a comparatively isolated and idyllic island that come midsummer pretty quintuples in population at which point it always gets at least slightly mad, sometimes way more than slightly. But this seriously mad peak is really only three or four weeks ... and it does end. And, of course, it's the core of a lot of the island's economy. You work hard, you serve the visitors, put up with the ignorant and foolish bullshit some of them can't help but spew, you make proverbial hay while than sun is shining ... ... and then you get your island back.

When people ask me about visiting, I always suggest they find a way to do it either before mid- July or after mid-August. They almost never do.
posted by philip-random at 9:06 AM on January 17 [1 favorite]

Small artsy tourist town with a whole bunch of breweries that's also a big retirement hub and now attracting remote-work migrants. And there isn't an "out of season" any more: after the 2020 spring-summer lockdown, visitor numbers hit all-time highs and have stayed there.

As others have said, it punches above its weight with food and culture and amenities. (Pre-pandemic you could see so many bands and artists in fairly small venues who routinely sell out bigger venues in big cities.)

But the main downtown area is perceived as off-limits to residents, especially at weekends. Retail staff and servers at certain popular restaurants will routinely ask "where are you visiting from?" A few long-established restaurants have opened up satellite locations outside of downtown to address the whole "nobody goes there, it's too crowded" thing.

And yeah, what sucks is the cost of housing, the job market outside of the service industry, and just a rumbling resentment that the city has to pay for the externalities of tourism. Here, the hotel occupancy tax money goes directly to the tourism marketing board run by hotel owners. That in itself is a paperclip maximizer situation: the tourism board's job is to bring in more tourists which brings in more revenue which gives the board more money to spend...
posted by holgate at 9:14 AM on January 17 [3 favorites]

I grew up in Springfield, Illinois, which gets tourists for all of the Lincoln-related stuff plus a whole lot of people for the Illinois State Fair. I didn't realize how much it was a tourist town until I went to college elsewhere and noticed the complete absence of kitschy gift shops.

Elementary school involved a lot of trips to various Lincoln-related sites.

My experience is mostly that I've had strong feelings about tourist-related decisions, even now, when I haven't lived there for years. For instance, I think the Lincoln Museum is a terrible travesty (they voted against a group that had designed the Holocaust Museum in Washington and went with people who had worked for Disney - it shows). When I was a child, they restored the Old State Capitol Building (the capitol during Lincoln's time), and that is really quite beautiful and cool. Most of the crowds that came were in very specific areas, so I didn't encounter them much aside from occasionally seeing a lot of buses by the capitol building (Springfield is also the state capitol). Restaurants would get very crowded during the State Fair (honestly, most people have no idea how much of a big deal a state fair can be). Once I was out with my family and we were asked if we were there for the fair, and we felt kind of insulted. The fair was also the source of my first job - a touristy city can mean more employment for teens.

Since leaving Springfield, I have mostly lived in college towns, and felt like they had a lot more stuff to do than Springfield ever did. When we had to sell a relative's property in Springfield, I was shocked by how cheap real estate is there.
posted by FencingGal at 9:15 AM on January 17 [1 favorite]

I lived in New Orleans for several years post-Katrina. On the negative side of the ledger, AirBNB has absolutely decimated many neighborhoods as landlords converted their apartments to AirBNBs because it would bring in more money. On the upside, I probably saw more far-flung friends when I lived there than at any point in my life because so many people come through town for conferences and vacations.
posted by mostly vowels at 9:22 AM on January 17 [1 favorite]

I lived in a tourist town of about 2,500 in Minnesota. It had a definite "season" in which the main drag was crawling with cars and RVs, the shore was crowded, and the restaurants were open late. During the winter off-season, though, everyone leaves (tourists and second-home-havers) and every restaurant closed for the season or had super minimal hours except for the "local" which had two beers on tap and a fryer in back.

Winters were long and dark and I'd guess that 3/4 of the houses in town were vacant. I found that really weird and eerie.
posted by Gray Duck at 9:30 AM on January 17

I have lived in a couple of towns in Australia that pretty much entirely exist only due to tourism. One of 2000 people one of 30,000

The pluses lots of seasonal jobs and if you work hospitality finding a new job is easy.
Most teens had work experience by the time they left school picking up seasonal jobs during summer vacation was pretty standard.
Great food and always something to see or do.
Lots of new people to meet.
Public areas are kept clean and well maintained.

Traffic can be a pain but you get used to doing errands in off times and avoiding the touristy spots, they tend to just go to the main destinations and avoid the more general areas.
Crime spikes during the busy season. Petty stuff like stolen petrol or picked pockets but annoying.
One of the big income earners in one town, was "schoolies week" think spring break, which was a freaking nightmare that the whole town just shuts it's doors and rides out unless they own a caravan park or a pub. The kids are mostly harmless, drink, throw up, kidnap garden gnomes kind of behaviour, it's the adults that follow them to prey on them that are the nightmare.
If you have a bad season due to say weather or a pandemic, the whole town suffers.
posted by wwax at 9:59 AM on January 17 [1 favorite]

You might find the Gateway and Natural Amenity Region Initiative interesting.

I’ve lived and worked in a lot of western US tourist towns. Housing is absolutely the biggest issue and in places like Utah and Arizona where the state government has prohibited it, is the ability to regulate short term rentals and second homes is killing us - they have eaten over 15% of our housing stock. Combined with second homes it’s impossible for even well paid professionals to buy a modest family home. Hotels are fine, they pay taxes, have fire life safety systems and generally give back to the economy.

Garbage, forest fires, OHV damage and noise are all increasing and we don’t have the local power to implement the changes we need to make it sustainable given our state level laws.

The food is pretty good and so are the views.
posted by chuke at 10:00 AM on January 17 [2 favorites]

Like some others, I have a different definition of tourist town - to me it's analogous to a college town - NYC isn't a college town even though it has numerous universities, because the fluctuations of the student population aren't felt. Likewise, when I lived in NYC, I only noticed when it was high season for tourists when say, I rode my bike over Brooklyn Bridge.

Like mostly vowels, I also have lived in New Orleans post-Katrina, both shortly after and over a decade after, and can confirm the Short Term Rentals are really impacting the city. In the 10 year gap between my two times living there, rents had dramatically increased, along with substantial gentrification. Buying a house has become much harder, as some houses are renovated to basically become AirBNBs, and sell way over the average value of the neighborhood they are in. It's pretty gross.

Some other downsides:
1. The city's infrastructure, while fairly poor all over, was substantially better in the French Quarter - meanwhile the rest of city had to deal with regular power outages. Similarly, the public transportation is fine if your a tourist wanting a fun trolly ride, but it's not really practical for locals - it's a hard city to not have a car, though many people do have to manage.

2. I think it's contributed to a real divide between born-and-raised locals and transplants, with a lot of ire directed at transplants. Much of this is for good reason due to the gentrification, which again, is in large part due to tourism/AirBNB.

3. At peak tourist season (Mardi Gras season, Jazz Fest, especially) the city becomes unmanageable. Some locals leave town the week of Mardi Gras. Traffic is bad, it's impossible to get a dinner reservation, everywhere is crowded and more expensive (prices for music venues go up), etc.

4. It was hit really hard by COVID financially, which means the city budget is kinda screwed.

5. The sales tax is kinda nuts - almost 10%. Of course, this makes a lot of money for the city, and tourists pay most of it, but it also means going out to eat and whatnot gets more expensive. And since the city is corrupt, it's not like locals really get much from it. Seeing the final bill at restaurants was a shock for the first few months after moving there.

The positives are all the reasons that it is a tourist town (music, food, beautiful city, etc.) But if the city doesn't change it's policy towards short term rentals, the locals that provide the music and food are going to be squeezed out.
posted by coffeecat at 10:07 AM on January 17 [1 favorite]

I lived in Cozumel, off the coast of Playa del Carmen. It's halfway between a resort town and a tourist town, I suppose. There are people who live and work there unconnected to tourism, particularly in the fishing industry.

Most tourists come on cruise ships (several times a day in the high season), but are told the island is dangerous and to stay near the plaza in front of the docks. This has the double benefit of keeping them focused on the overpriced restaurants and souvenir shops, and corralling them away from the rest of the island so everyone else can live in peace and avoid the traffic. People there for the scuba diving tend to stay in the lux resorts along the channel beach, and don't really venture into town either.

I lived about a 15 minute drive from the channel side beach (where the reef is), and it was pretty easy to avoid the tourists if you kept an eye on the cruise schedule. But there were plenty of decent restaurants, good doctors, and well stocked grocery stores, which can be hard to find in some areas in Mexico.

I really enjoyed my time there, and if you're bored it's always pretty amusing to watch drunk tourists stumble around wearing giant balloon animal hats (it's a Thing they do for pretty much every tourist, possibly to make them easy to spot if they wander off).
posted by ananci at 10:24 AM on January 17 [4 favorites]

I live and grew up on a vacation resort Island. The major downside besides entitlement and congestion in the summer is that it has driven up the price of housing to the point that there is almost nothing affordable for year round residents. which is difficult and depressing. Upside is that it's gorgeous and the off seasons are lovely.
posted by jeszac at 10:27 AM on January 17 [2 favorites]

I live in a tourism town (Niagara Falls, ON) and I am not a fan. There are great places *outside* of the immediate tourism zone and town, but a corrupt city council has incentivized crappy, zero-personality, tourist trap businesses (think Ripley's Believe it or Not, Madame Tussauds, a casino, other cheap Vegas-type crap, etc) while putting very little money into improving infrastructure, community resources, affordable housing, a diverse & healthy job market, or local mom and pop type businesses. There are entire sections of the downtown zone that are just empty storefronts (even before COVID).

For the above reasons, most young people don't stay here so the population skews much older (elderly/retired). It also means there's less "local color" than I personally prefer; I always feel like if I want to go somewhere cool or interesting I have to go to one of the next towns over, or Toronto.

As far as tourist season, it's what you'd expect: traffic and tourists. But there are ways to circumvent interacting with said traffic/tourists so if you want to ignore it, you mostly (but not always) can.

Before this I lived in a different type of tourist town (attracted a lot of Civil War/history buffs) but it was a college town, as well, so it wasn't quite as bad- plus the local economy was stronger and it had more overall charm.
posted by nightrecordings at 10:32 AM on January 17 [1 favorite]

Horrible if you've lived there long enough to have been pre-tourist, and watched it taken over by short-term rentals, seen housing prices skyrocket, and most younger locals be pushed out to 30-60 minute drives just to continue living near their hometown.

When the town becomes not just a tourist town, but a bedroom community of a larger (but commute-possible) metro area for people who are well off, there's almost nothing positive about it. The newcomers don't want affordable stores, they want boutiques for their entertainment (in my hometown, outdoor sports), and "shopping local" / avoiding big box stores is a joke, because there are NO stores that cater to people who just live there. It even got a Goodwill a few years back... except it's on the main downtown street, and it's a high-end boutique Goodwill, which means they carry expensive - and expensively priced - used name brands, but not much else.

Minimum wage may have doubled, but rentals are 5-8 times as much, and home prices that the local government call "affordable" are in the half-million range. Not even moderate income apartments can get built - it'd bring down the high-end factor of the town. Real-wage jobs with benefits disappeared; newcomers didn't like industry jobs messing up the "quaint" town their mini mcmansions were filling. They prided themselves on "creating jobs", aka, starting a restaurant, usually, that provided part-time minimum wage jobs with no benefits. Somehow, those two or three part-time jobs was seen by them as better than the full-time blue collar jobs we'd had.

Don't let it happen to a town, if you have any say in it. Restrict the short-term rentals early and hard. Restrict second homes and empty homes. Problem is, ours started in the early 80s, the people who saw it coming got greedy and got into real estate and intentionally took over city and county offices to get into control so they could make money fall from the sky, and it took everyone else by surprise, who'd thought the early international fame of the town was a fluke. Make sure the tourism stays incidental, not the primary purpose, of the town.

Really. Because while it makes a pretty picture for that top 10%, it destroys the home and connections that the other 90% have spent decades building.
posted by stormyteal at 10:34 AM on January 17 [3 favorites]

Restrict the short-term rentals early and hard. Restrict second homes and empty homes.

Indeed. I've just come across this timely article from a countryside charity on the consequences of the boom in holiday lets in rural England.
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 11:20 AM on January 17

One downside I haven't seen mentioned as a downside is not knowing/respecting the local culture.

Montanan's are a friendly people and there are things you don't do. You don't cut in line. You don't assume that having more money makes you more important. You don't talk to service industry people rudely, or anyone else rudely unless they start it. You make eye contact with strangers.

One of the biggest cultural changes I've seen in the last 30+ years is in fly-fishing/floating rivers. Montanan's all wish, "A River Runs Through It." had never been made into a movie. Since then our rivers have become crowded with people who don't prep before backing down the boat ramp, guides and others who don't respect river rules (upstream boat has the right of way, don't hog a hole, float behind someone who is fishing and not in front of them, don't cast in front of shore or wade fishers, don't be the wade fisher who stands in the middle of the only floatable run at low water and expects boats to go around them, etc.) When I lived in Helena and floated the Missouri, I refused to go out Friday-Sunday because it was incredibly crowded, particularly when other rivers were closed due to drought temperatures. Guides from across the state would move trips to the Missouri.

Among locals, if you walk up on someone fishing a stream or river, you ask them if they are going up or down and then you go the opposite direction. You don't fish within 100 yards of them at the closest. Any time you see a picture of people fishing a river in the West and they are close enough to each other to toss a beer, those are tourists.
posted by ITravelMontana at 11:51 AM on January 17 [2 favorites]

Sydney is a tourist centre (or at least it was until March 2020). What I always found fascinating is how tourists from other countries interact with the place—because Sydney is so big and the real estate market so toxic in its own right we don’t notice Airbnb so much, but Instagram tourism is very noticeable. It’s a huge thing for young couples from north Asian countries to honeymoon in Australia and have their photos taken in wedding clothes; in front of the Opera House, obviously, but also unusual ones I never would have expected: e.g. on railway stations, on a jacaranda street in [suburban] North Sydney. There was one notorious Chinese tour company that sold tours of the main quad of Sydney University on the grounds that Harry Potter was filmed there (it wasn’t). The National Parks and Wildlife Service spends a lot of money on signs trying to stop people falling off Instagram cliffs or getting washed off Instagram rocks. Bafflingly tourists do not seem to understand ‘don’t go near the wildlife’ [I’m thinking of you, French couple who showed me a terrifyingly closeup picture of a brown snake].

It never gets old, though. I remember working in an office job where I caught the train to Circular Quay, and twice a day I’d have the view of Harbour Bridge, Quay and Opera House. It was just… cheering.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 1:14 PM on January 17 [2 favorites]

I grew up in a very small beach town in NC that relies on tourism, and I've lived in two popular tourist destination cities, Boston and San Francisco. The impact of tourism feels very different between those two types of places.

The tiny beach town can't survive without tourism, and the shape and vibe and demographics changed drastically during tourist season.

The good:
- Yes, I think we got decent wireless and internet infrastructure much sooner than we otherwise would have because it was starting to become a requirement for the tourists from places that already had those amenities
- Same with decent coffee shops and slightly more worldly food
- It was very much a small town and everyone knew each others' business and it was also quite racially homogeneous. Tourist season was a great opportunity to meet people who didn't know your mama-n-daddy (so you could maybe be yourself a little more, or try out different identities a little more safely), and get exposure to more queer folks and people of color and other people who had different experiences and perspectives

The bad
- Housing and lodging prices have climbed steadily every year. It's almost impossible to find residential (not tourist-oriented) long-term housing, and trying to find a place to stay when I visit my family who's still there is expensive and effortful
- Because so many businesses are reliant on tourism, and the vast majority of them are small businesses owned by individuals and families, peak COVID lockdown destroyed quite a few businesses and lives, and I am not being hyperbolic.
- For the same reasons, they opened back up way earlier than they should have
- Much of the cool stuff closes when the tourists aren't there
- Because of the above, it's hard to make a living outside of tourist season, and during tourist season the job market is highly competitive
- If you do meet someone awesome over the summer, they eventually leave and are gone from your lives and often never to be heard of again (this may be different now that social media is a thing, but when I was a kid growing up there everyone promised to write and almost no one did)
- There's no reason to travel there if you're not on vacation, and it's far enough away from major airports that friends and family in other places just didn't come visit as often

The cities are pretty self-contained, and while tourism certainly has an effect on the vibe and the economy, and COVID lockdown definitely did damage to San Francisco (I assume Boston, too, but I don't live there anymore), I can go about my daily life without interacting much with or thinking much about tourists the vast majority of the time. Outside of the easy-to-avoid areas that are mostly tourist attractions, it's only really noticeable during massive events like Pride, Dreamforce, etc. (pre-COVID of course). Also more people have reason to be in SF for work etc. so people come visit more often.
posted by rhiannonstone at 1:57 PM on January 17 [1 favorite]

Bahamas: some shop/places/restaurants only open on days that cruise boats come in. It's less busy during the off season (summer), which is good and bad, the economy definitely sufferers during Covid and after hurricanes.
posted by never.was.and.never.will.be. at 2:04 PM on January 17

I grew up in a fairly small tourist-focused town. I wouldn't say it's completely tourism-dependent, but it's definitely a significant part of the local economy. For me, it is mostly positive, the town has significantly more population, more wealth and a lot more amenities (stores, restaurants, etc.) than it would otherwise have. Looking at similarly sized non-touristy towns, the difference is huge. It's pretty seasonal tourism as well, so half the year you get the benefits without the tourists actually being there.

Extra traffic isn't much of an issue, since it's in the Netherlands so much less car-focused in general. On top of that most of the tourism is around boating, sailing, and the beach, so boat congestion is more likely than car congestion. The crowd it attracts is generally well-off and polite (as Germans tend to be), which helps as well. So yeah, pretty positive overall, but I imagine it's very different if the town is completely tourism-dependent or if it attracts, say, boisterous party crowd.
posted by snusmumrik at 4:01 AM on January 18 [2 favorites]

I haven’t lived full-time in a tourist town, but we had a small flat in a small, unfashionable UK seaside town where we’d go every other weekend and for whole weeks occasionally (yes, really we were Part Of The Problem).

On the plus side there were more facilities there than the town might have had if it didn’t have beaches - more shops, more cafes, a yacht club, etc.

Also, you get to enjoy the reason it’s a tourist town - the beaches, inland waterways, ice creams, fish and chips - when tourists aren’t there. So if you were into kayaking, sailing, windsurfing, fishing, or walking dogs on beaches you had much of the place to yourself for much of the year.

On the down side businesses relied on the summer visitors for most of their income so some would shut entirely for months of the year, and others would be practically empty outside of the season, leaving the whole place feeling pretty empty and neglected on a grey January weekday. There was a steady rotation of people starting up hopeful businesses on the high street which often closed after a couple of years (cupcake shop, VR lounge, vintage/retro curio shop).

Also, you have to be ready to put up with the downsides of the busy and (hopefully) sunny part of the year - nowhere to park, crowds everywhere, noise (karaoke, amplified singers outside pubs, etc), queues in shops, litter, etc.
posted by fabius at 5:30 AM on January 18 [1 favorite]

I live on the Gold Coast, Australia - a city that has traditionally relied on and been seen as only a tourist destination. As it's grown, the reliance on tourism has shrunk, although it is still very much a tourist city. There are a lot of great things about living here:
- it's basically open 24/7 and there is everything you can think of within a reasonable drive, so you are never stuck for something to do
- the facilities, particularly beaches and waterways, but also more nature-based areas in the hinterland are well-maintained, clean and beautiful
- the biggest attraction is the climate, which is very mild pretty much all year, which makes it a pleasant place to live
- the city has got big enough that you can live here and enjoy everything that tourism has created without actually interacting much with tourists except for maybe a few weeks around Christmas.

The only real downside is the same as pretty much every city everywhere - the transport infrastructure is stressed and badly designed, so gets congested and there is limited or no free parking at most popular areas. Public transport has evolved from being more or less non-existent to just being terrible outside the key tourist areas. Real estate prices are higher than comparable-sized cities here, although still nowhere as high as our biggest cities.

I love living here and enjoying all the facilities and resources that tourism money has brought to the city. Every time I travel somewhere else, I'm caught out by not having ready access to whatever I want whenever I want it and am reminded of how lucky I am to live where I do.
posted by dg at 4:13 PM on January 19

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