The Long Way Home--Overtourism Again

I’ve been watching events for a couple of months to see if there really is such a thing as overtourism. Wikipedia defines it as “the congestion or overcrowding from an excess of tourists, resulting in conflicts with locals.”

Locals have always had conflicts with tourists and tourism. It is a people business after all, and sometimes people just don’t get along. Those conflicts and resentments boil up from time to time.

Recently the proprietor of a local business went online to eloquently say she wouldn’t tolerate the rude behavior of some recent customers towards her employees. Sadly, the rude visitors tend to taint the local's perception of tourists in general.

Within a week of hearing her heartfelt plea for civil decorum, I saw that a restaurant in Charlevoix, MI, East Park Tavern, shut its kitchen for a day during Venetian Festival, an annual tourism event similar to Fishermen’s Picnic, when abusive customers reduced a staff member to tears. Charlevoix is located in northern Michigan with a vibrant, seasonal tourism industry. They lovingly, I think, refer to tourists as Fudgies, due to a large number of purveyors of the sugary treats in the area.

Social media comments reflect dissatisfaction with Fudgies (tourists) this year, lamenting the lack of consideration and decency and claiming it’s the worse it’s ever been.

As my grandma might have said, “It’s always been thus.” And she might have added, “There’s nothing we can do, it’s happening everywhere.” Sentiments I hear from locals today.

But that doesn’t mean we should do nothing. Cancer, and I write this as a survivor of the big C, has always been thus and it is happening everywhere. But I’m awfully glad that people are working to understand cancer and finding ways to minimize its bad effects.

It’s not just tourists. New residents in a community create conflicts with locals as they try to fit in or change things, believing those changes are for the better. We are humans, right?

In the 90s, the dike meant to contain coal slag at the Taconite Harbor powerplant sprung a big leak that led to a slide of coal slag several feet deep across Highway 61, blocking traffic in both directions. More than one local wag said, tongue in cheek, that keeping the highway closed would be a good thing. Stop or slow down the inflow of new residents and tourists.

Similar tongue-in-cheeky sentiments were expressed at the pandemic's start when a wannabe lumberjack felled a tree across Highway 61 in the west end hoping to keep out the infected.

Now the Cook County Sheriff’s office is losing as many as three of its eight deputies. The CEO of the local hospital is driving the ambulance from time to time due to staff shortages. The schools are struggling to find enough teachers. The less than fragrant emanations from the city sewage treatment facility waft over the east side of Grand Marais.

Tourism has been a huge economic success for Cook County. It is an industry that will have a presence in the lives of residents for years to come. But its effects are not all positive and the industry ignores that at its peril. It is past time to plan for the influx of tourists we receive and determine how best to manage our infrastructure--physical and human--to meet that influx.


  1. One might begin by ordering placemats that feature the basics of good manners to spark discussion among diners and as points of reference to be used by those staff members abused by rude tourists. It is not a total solution, but it is a start. It does set a standard of expectation.


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