What's Up With Tourists?

Fedward Potz thinks that DC locals ought to be nicer to summer tourists. There's a number of reasons why these visitors are good for the city, including the fact that they spend money, earned elsewhere, and generate a lot of business because of it. But Potz says it's not just about business, being nice is just the right thing to do.

(from thetejon on Flickr)

The bigger question is, why do people even have such sour feelings toward visitors? Sure, it's annoying that some people stand on the wrong side of the escalators and others hog the sidewalks, but I think it runs deeper than these little annoyances.

Big cities often have two economies - the local economy and the tourist economy. Tourists are a captive audience, they're in an unfamiliar place with wallets open, so businesses understandably charge them a lot of money for goods and services. I once heard that there are dirty-water dog vendors in New York that charge different prices for the same exact same hot dogs, depending on whether they peg you as a local or a tourist. I actually did find it curious that few street vendors in New York have posted prices. You have to ask to find out what stuff costs.

Locals don't want to get trapped in the tourist economy of their own city. I certainly have no desire to go down to the areas surrounding the National Mall and pay a 50% premium on food and drinks at restaurants that are worse than most other places in the city. But I also fear that if tourists start visiting my favorite places, prices will go up and quality will go down. Once businesses become attractions, they will charge higher prices and provide quality of service just good enough to keep people flocking to it.


    In the 10+ years I lived in San Francisco, there was generally a clear division between places frequented by locals and places frequented by tourists. An example for DC is the National Mall: except for government office workers in the midday, most people that frequent the National Mall are tourists.

    On April 27, 2011 Anonymous said...

    As a native Virginian and someone who works in DC, it is frustrating to me to see the lack of hospitality and courtesy extended to tourists. I love to chat on METRO with tourists. Sometimes there's actual help I can give. From getting a couple of tipsy Australian gentlemen well on their way to Vienna turned back around so they'd get to their Georgetown destination, to assuring the parents of a distressed child who needed a restroom NOW that METRO facilities can be used by the public, just ask at the kiosk. The kid was seriously upset, and not a single other passenger spoke up (how could anyone ignore taht?!). I've suggested places to visit, where to eat, provided directions, handed out bottled water to folks unprepared for our summer heat, and given away bandaids for blistered feet. In return, I've been enriched by talking to people from other places, having a few moments of seeing my home through their experience, learning something about them and where they are from. Rather than scorn tourists, it's much more pleasant to engage them -- we benefit, and they leave with a positive view of our home. That old addage about DC being a city of Northern charm and Southern efficiency may not ever be completely reversed, but there's a lot that we can do in our everyday interactions to mitigate it.

    On April 27, 2011 Anonymous said...

    i don't think washingtonians have any issue with tourism, which seems to be what you're describing, but rather the tourists themselves.
    i don't worry about my favorite restaurants compromising quality and raising prices. i do get annoyed when i can't get a table because the place is clogged with crass, loud- (and foul-) mouthed, slovenly dressed, slow-moving tourists towing a massive brood of inexcusably ill-behaved children and complaining about everything from prices to portions.
    additionally, though it is "outside money," i do not believe they spend nearly as much at local businesses as local consumers who are accustomed to the higher cost of living.
    sure, i can stomach it for a few months, but i certainly don't have to like it.