The Trouble with Tourism

New York City has come to rely on people that don’t live here. The Mayor’s tenacity in resisting hotel tax increases demonstrates just how city government relies on tourism and tourist spending to support its basic functions. The city hosts 600,000 college students, many on 4 year jaunts through the same New York-as-Disneyland inhabited by tourists. Students and tourists both temporarily inhabit the city – as a student, I’ve never even filed a change of address, and still vote in Texas, where I grew up.

The city’s reliance on tourist or temporary resident revenue creates incentives to ignore the interests of long term residents, enabling or encouraging disregard of the people who work/live in New York. In many regards, city residents can be considered as mere support staff for the tourist trade’s light show. Many/most of the jobs created by the tourist trade are low-paying service economy (tour guides, hotels, pedicabs, etc), and linked to the seasons, creating instability – and often vulnerability – for those working the jobs making the city run.

The tourist-transitory city becomes a place built to serve someone other than its residents – a city full of artificial spectacle like the harbor waterfalls and crowded with tour buses. It is a city forced to pander to a upper-middle class leisure time elite, with swaths of the city that regular residents seldom visit, filled with overpriced goods and mediocre food. Tourism sometimes fosters an attitude of arrogant disregard as well – when being asked (often) by visitors for directions or recommendations, I sometimes feel as if they see me more like an employee than a friendly citizen: the reply must be automatic and obliging to avoid reproach.

I understand the need for the city to protect important revenue streams, but these should not become an end in itself. More importantly, they should ask who those revenue streams are meant to serve, and whether pursuing them fails the people the government is meant to help.

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2 responses to “The Trouble with Tourism

  1. should the once tourists stay? maybe too brief a question.

  2. Pingback: Yuppies are Out, Welcome to the Age of Yupres « Politics as Puppetry

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