The spray-painted message was loud and clear: Tourist Go Home! I could feel the hate, the anger, the disgust that oozed out of the hand that scrawled the words along the roadside — but I also understood where the author was coming from. After all, anti-tourist sentiment often is broadcast loud and clear throughout the Truckee/Tahoe region. Except, this wasn’t in Tahoe; it was on the Big Island of Hawaii.
My husband’s 95-year-old grandmother lives in Kailua-Kona. Given her age, she will no longer fly, so as pandemic travel restrictions to Hawaii began to ease, we felt comfortable saying yes when she wanted us to come visit. I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t a bit of hesitation. We weren’t too keen on visitors inundating Tahoe during the supposed stay-at-home order, increasing our exposure to Covid and threatening the exhaustion of our resources. But somehow this seemed different. If we wanted to avoid quarantine, we had to have a negative Covid test prior to and after arrival. I’d have felt much more at ease last summer knowing that everyone descending upon Tahoe had taken a test. But that would be impossible to enforce with people free to drive about the state without roadblocks. Hawaii, however, is surrounded by ocean and can only be accessed by air or boat travel. Thus, it was easy to cut off tourism — but at what cost?
Exploring downtown Kailua-Kona was eerie compared to years past. The number of empty storefronts was heartbreaking. Window signs announced, “we’ll be back soon” with estimated reopening dates that had come and gone. The vacant spaces behind the glass told a different story: They were history. They would not be back soon; would not be back at all. It was a sad illustration of what could be our very own economy should it continue to solely rely on tourism. Tourists are our lifeline — but does it have to be that way?
Moonshine recently hosted its sixth Tahoe Talks Community Conference Call, If Not Tourism, Then What?. Local business leaders like Alyssa Reilly of NTBA, Jeffrey Hentz of the NLTRA, Nevada and Placer counties district 5 supervisors Hardy Bullock and Cindy Gustafson, respectively, among others, examined the history of tourism and also glimpsed at the future, looking at how our businesses and local economic landscape as a whole can diversify so we are not solely reliant on tourism. And we’ll continue to study the viability of our tourist-driven economy, starting with our special economic edition, hitting stands June 10.
The beauty of nature belongs to everyone, and the majesty of Lake Tahoe should be shared with the world. But banking mainly on tourism as the base of our economy can defile the very magnificence we all love and appreciate. There has to be balance in nature and exploring viable economic sources such as forest restoration, technology, and the arts, to name a few, should and must be considered.
After the recent series of earthquakes hit the center of Lake Tahoe, I heard people joke about what would happen if the water were to drain out of a crack in the bottom. While that is likely unrealistic, such a thing would not only cause the lake to dry up, but the floods of tourists that come to see it as well. Then what would we do? Tourism has always been a double-edged sword, but should we bite the hands that feed us? I’d say not.