Managing Tourism for a Livable City
Advocacy for Charleston
The Preservation Society is a committed advocate for sustainable tourism. The City was a pioneer when it adopted the nation’s first local tourism management plan in 1978, but in recent years has missed opportunities to modernize its policies and programs. Key current issues in Charleston tourism that must be addressed include housing affordability, the loss of neighborhood businesses, and increasing congestion.
Tourism is not new to Charleston. Visitation to historic buildings was an important economic driver of early historic preservation efforts in the 1920s. And, as the City quickly learned, over-tourism can have harmful consequences. When tourists began whisking away the decorative elements adorning the City’s historic dwellings, the Preservation Society responded by pressing for stronger City oversight and later adopted an informal motto: “Gut Fish, Not Houses.”
Ironically, the destination marketing for Charleston today heavily features the iconic sites that earlier generations had the foresight to preserve. Rainbow Row, once a dilapidated set of rowhouses, graces social media feeds all over the world. Travelers are undoubtedly lured by the city’s architectural beauty that preservationists have worked to defend.
But, at a point, the attention can strain our City and diminish the values that make it so unique. We face a significant housing shortage at a time when market pressure for hotels and short-term rentals is soaring. Neighborhood-serving businesses are being pushed out by high-end shops and restaurants that cater to tourists. And the quality of the visitor experience is at risk when we romanticize and inaccurately characterize the City’s past.
Our strategy for progress focuses on three key aspects of over-tourism: