Letter: Tourists, the lifeblood of our community?

Graphic by Lori Deaton

I’ve never joined Facebook, but I did sign up for Nextdoor to stay informed about my community.

During a recent debate about Asheville’s potential ordinance to curtail the feeding of unhoused humans in public, a newcomer stated that we needed to keep parks tidy for tourists because “tourists are the lifeblood” of our town.


Tourism is certainly vital to the economic success of a great many, but tourism is not (and should not be construed to be) all that we are.

This isn’t an argument against tourism. But no tourist has ever patched my roof, tended my godson or brought me chicken soup. No tourist has ever bagged my groceries, cleaned my teeth or changed the oil in my car. I doubt any tourist has ever captured thieves of our catalytic converters, and I’ve never seen a tourist stand before City Council to advocate for our rivers and trees.

Tourism may pump cash into the local economy, but the relatively paltry percentage that trickles into providing for citizens pales in comparison to what is earmarked for projects attracting even more visitors who burden our infrastructure, crowd our streets and OD in pricey hotels. How much more good (and good will) would be achieved if some tourism dollars were spent to save branch libraries, assist first-time homeowners and conserve urban forests?

Things would be different here without so much emphasis on tourism. There would be fewer hotels, but more affordable housing; less traffic, but more space to garden and walk. But without as much reliance on tourism, would life continue in this wondrous place we call home? You bet it would.

Most tourists are surely wonderful people, and I believe they have the right to visit anyplace they can afford to go so long as they obey local laws. But tourists aren’t the lifeblood of this town.

Teachers, activists and caregivers are, along with nurses, artists, bakers and law enforcement. Plus veterans, professors, women and men who farm, mow lawns, clean homes, volunteer with food banks or tutor a child.

Others include longtime taxpayers of Richmond Hill who asked the city to protect their health and safety, only to be snubbed. Montford parents who requested science-based safeguards against noise on school nights when their kids can’t get to sleep. These and others who live here and are not merely passing through — they are the lifeblood.

Leaders should recognize the dangers of kowtowing too much to investors and guests. Leaders shouldn’t be so focused on turning our area into an amusement park for those with disposable cash to drop on lodging and entertainment. Leaders (if they’re truly leaders) should listen more closely when committed activists and stakeholders voice well-founded concerns.

Fast-growing cities have a great deal in common with startups. Leaders should avoid the pitfalls of adding too many people and implementing too many money-driven changes without protecting the people who make everything run. If citizens seem more vocal than ever before, the fact that short-term economic decisions are being made without considering the myriad long-term effects may explain why.

When those who are truly the lifeblood of their community feel they aren’t being heard — that their home has become more “a place to visit” than “a place to live” — they raise their voices. When their words continually fall on deaf ears, communities unify, galvanize and go to the polls.

As local leaders set about to do the work we’ve elected them to do as our representatives, they should remember …

Tourists don’t vote.

— Robert McGee


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7 thoughts on “Letter: Tourists, the lifeblood of our community?

  1. Enlightened Enigma

    Robert, haven’t you figgered out there is NO real leadership in the AVL ? These womyn of council have NO bizness trying to run a city. Zip, Zero, Nada!

    • Robert McGee

      I’m still hopeful that strong wise leaders (elected or not) will step forth.

  2. Bright

    Succinct letter, Mr. McGee. Seems it’s a trait of cities with a peer pressure problem to get lazy (greedy) and rely on tourists to hold up their cities’ struggling economic situation. Successful cities have realized that dependence on the capriciousness of tourists is no substitute to transparency and legitimate improvement. Asheville has glossed over so many issues in favor of the quickie fixie. The whip will come down.

  3. MV

    There’s still time to fix some of the problems, but like with climate change and other issues, I don’t think we can’t afford to wait. We need leaders who listen to the right people.

  4. rwd

    Hah…Tourists don’t vote….and the incumbents are trusting the political apathy will result in Asheville residents not voting as well ! !

  5. R.G.

    Why haven’t we heard more about those tourists who OD’ed in the Grove Park Inn? Is it true that the mayor and TDA intervened to keep it quiet? Does the Grove Park Inn condone drug use from out-of-state guests so long as they have money?

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