Place, ecotourism, and the East Coast Greenway

by Herb Hiller

We all know about “place” – about our house and streets, our commute, about where we work, and also about where we play. Could be golf and its clubhouse, trails where we bike, routes that we run.

For me, place focuses thoughts about tourism, about when we travel at leisure from home to someplace where we want a few days or weeks.

The world of tourism belongs to marketers. They run the system that moves people around. Chiefly in charge are hoteliers. Their object is to fill rooms. Hoteliers always want more of what they call heads in beds. Airlines and rental car companies talk about butts in seats. More is always better.

It’s rare that people in tourism think about the receiving end. That’s to say, about impacts. Sometimes tourism people talk about not wanting to “ruin a good thing.” But even this ostensive regard for where tourists congregate – at a historic district or maybe an exceptional natural formation like Ichetucknee Spring – treats the place like a commodity, like something that belongs to tourism and ought to be subject to its determination about how much is too much.

Tourism talks about the need to keep shops open maybe late at night because tourists like to stay up late on vacation or, as I remember hearing more than once during years I worked in the Caribbean, about getting islanders to organize this or that festival at times of year that might keep winter vacationers an extra night or two, even though the festival might be culturally tied to a particular time of year.

It was that kind of insensitivity verging on arrogance that led me to a different formulation about tourism. That was to re-position primacy from the marketplace to what tourism people call “the destination,” which is to say, where real people lead real lives and, for one reason or another, like winter warmth or abundant wildlife, tend to attract large numbers of visitors.

My approach became, How can we (at the receiving end) use the presence of outsiders temporarily at leisure where we live to help achieve our local priorities? So, for example, locals might live in a CRA, a community redevelopment area, that helps revive downtowns. To attract investment, store owners might benefit from the added purchasing power of visitors. Maybe there’s something historical or otherwise significant that could attract visitors. Maybe one or more buildings might be converted to distinctive lodgings and restaurants. Maybe a re-enactment might be scripted and staged.

Not long after I re-focused myself from the Caribbean to Florida, I began asking these questions about where I lived, the place called Coconut Grove that was where today’s city of Miami began. The Grove lies along a section of the East Coast Greenway that I expect the Trail Council to designate in Newark early in May.

I’ll tell you more about Coconut Grove and the Greenway – about tourism, ecotourism, and about place – in my next blog.

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