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A travel guide’s warning to avoid Lake Tahoe may jolt the region into managing huge tourist crowds

by Lucas Garcia
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Lake Tahoe Overtourism Management

Lake Tahoe tourism officials were taken aback and slightly irked when a prestigious global travel guide recommended tourists steer clear of the renowned alpine lake, straddling the border between California and Nevada, due to the environmental harm caused by excessive tourism.

However, the influx of visitors and new permanent residents, triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic, has urged local authorities to rethink long-standing concerns about overcrowding. Fodor’s “No List 2023” might have just been the needed alarm for implementing necessary changes.

Long-time resident Susan Daniels lamented, “I can’t visit my own beaches anymore,” expressing her disappointment in not being able to enjoy her beloved Sand Harbor, a well-known spot for its turquoise water and unique rock formations.

Fodor’s assertion last November that “Lake Tahoe has a people problem” has encouraged consideration of imposing taxes or fees on motorists, a proposal once deemed unthinkable. Simultaneously, local businesses and tourism officials are encouraging travelers to explore less frequented areas of the lake and to visit during off-peak seasons.

The goal is to protect a local economy worth $5 billion that relies heavily on tourists who come for outdoor activities, while mitigating their impact on the local environment and communities. Lake Tahoe, which is about a third of Yosemite National Park’s size, attracts approximately 15 million visitors every year, three times more than Yosemite.

Carol Chaplin, CEO of the Lake Tahoe Visitor’s Authority, acknowledged the need for managing tourism rather than just promoting it.

This month saw the unveiling of the Lake Tahoe Destination Stewardship Plan, a 143-page strategy developed over two years by a broad coalition, aiming to sustainably preserve the iconic lake and its shoreline. The plan suggests mitigating traffic congestion, which causes parking nightmares and increases air pollution and lake sedimentation.

However, Amy Berry, CEO of the nonprofit Tahoe Fund, stressed, “we’re not a national park,” and that completely shutting out visitors is not an option. The implementation and enforcement of the plan’s suggestions remain uncertain.

With congestion reaching a critical level, Alexis Hill, Washoe County Commission Chairwoman, suggests adopting “user or roadway pricing to limit the vehicles in the basin and incentivize the use of public transit.” Despite the complexity of the situation, Hill believes the need for such changes is becoming evident.

Like Lake Tahoe, other destinations are also grappling with managing visitors more effectively. Efforts to direct tourists towards lesser-known attractions and to encourage off-peak visits are being promoted.

However, Jason Kenneweg, a longtime local, voiced skepticism about the success of these strategies, while Susan Daniels expressed belief in the effectiveness of user fees for motorists.

Despite the travel guide’s recommendation, hotel occupancy from December to April showed a 12% increase from the previous year. The impact of overtourism on Lake Tahoe’s ecosystem and lifestyle has pushed some long-time residents, like Ellie Waller, to relocate, frustrated with the traffic, crowded grocery stores, and skyrocketing housing costs.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Lake Tahoe Overtourism Management

What was the cause of surprise for Lake Tahoe tourism officials?

Lake Tahoe tourism officials were surprised when an international travel guide included Lake Tahoe on its list of places to avoid due to the damaging effects of overtourism.

How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected Lake Tahoe?

The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in an increase in visitors and new permanent residents in Lake Tahoe, leading local authorities to reconsider the longstanding issue of overcrowding.

What is the “No List 2023” by Fodor’s?

The “No List 2023” by Fodor’s is a travel advisory list that recommends tourists avoid certain destinations, including Lake Tahoe, due to issues like overtourism.

How is Lake Tahoe planning to manage its overtourism problem?

Lake Tahoe is planning to manage its overtourism problem by considering imposing taxes or fees on motorists, encouraging travelers to explore less frequented areas of the lake, and persuading tourists to visit during off-peak seasons. It has also introduced the Lake Tahoe Destination Stewardship Plan to aid these efforts.

What are some of the concerns highlighted in the Lake Tahoe Destination Stewardship Plan?

The Lake Tahoe Destination Stewardship Plan highlights concerns like traffic congestion which causes parking issues, air pollution, and increased lake sedimentation. It also discusses measures adopted by other tourist destinations, such as requiring reservations, timed-entry permits, and capacity limits.

What are some strategies suggested for managing tourism in Lake Tahoe?

Some suggested strategies for managing tourism in Lake Tahoe include encouraging midweek and off-season visits, promoting lesser-known attractions, and considering the implementation of user or roadway pricing to limit the number of vehicles in the basin and incentivize the use of public transit.

What is the impact of overtourism on local residents in Lake Tahoe?

Overtourism in Lake Tahoe has led to traffic congestion, overcrowded supermarkets, and increased housing costs, causing frustration among local residents. In some cases, long-time residents have chosen to relocate due to these issues.

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