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Kathy Swartz: Destination Mgmt plan assumes growth in tourism is inevitable.

  • Written by Kathy Schwartz

Here is the letter I sent today to our County Council members regarding the Draft Destination Management Plan.  

Today we paid our property taxes. Today is also the deadline for commentary on the Draft Destination Management Plan. The 112% increase in our taxes in the seven years we have lived here was a dandy incentive to read through the 89 page Plan.

My overall impression is that the Plan assumes growth in tourism is inevitable and that we islanders must plan and pay for the infrastructure and increased county payroll to direct the growth.

This is a case of barking up the wrong tree.  In Seattle, I worked for nearly thirty years at the Convention and Visitors Bureau.  I know tourism. The big lie about tourism, especially when approaching funding sources, is that tourism "creates jobs". What the lie doesn't address is that not all jobs are created equal.  

Tourism jobs are primarily low paying service jobs where the principal financial benefit goes to tourism related business owners and to local governments via sales and hotel tax revenue from visitor spending- not to the people doing the grunt work.  Leaving aside the issue of shelter, service workers need utilities, roads for their cars and bikes, food and entertainment, yet the tax and sales revenue they personally contribute to the islands is low because their wages are low. The infrastructure called for in the Destination Plan that we locals will have to pay to accommodate tourists and their service providers is a cost to us that doesn't pencil out for the majority of island residents and voters.  The businesses we depend on to live here year-round can prosper without tourists:  the grocery stores, hardware store, home center, banks, insurance brokers, realtors, doctors, tradesmen, dentists, drug store, local social clubs, service organizations, etc.

Planning to be a premier destination (p. 62) is a vanity fantasy.  We don't have the money. Planning to be an off season destination for eco-tourism is also a fantasy. Winter here is dark, dreary, and stormy and eco-tourism is an outdoor activity.

I acknowledge the thought, research, time, and passion that have gone into creation of the Draft Plan. I recognize that we have a problem that strains our capacities. However, I do not believe that actively promoting and accommodating tourism is a good use of our county resources.  The costs to us in terms of taxes, more government payroll to regulate the daily minutia of our lives, and acquisition of more public land (p.72) which will be taken off the tax rolls are costs that greatly outweigh the benefits of more and/or better tourism.

What the islands could use more of is the kind of highly skilled, high paying enterprises exemplified by Windowcraft or Luxel, the high-tech satellite imaging hardware company on San Juan Island.

And, let's not forget the benefit of our retiree population:  they come here with retirement income, pay taxes, don't need school services, and are among our most devoted volunteers keeping many community amenities afloat.

I urge you to shelve this plan and rethink its premises.

Kathy Schwartz

San Juan Island