Over the coming weeks the South West coast will welcome millions of visitors as the main holiday season gets underway.
The importance of tourism to the regional economy cannot be understated. It contributes an estimated 4.5 per cent of GDP and employs over 180,000 people underpinning a wide range of businesses including accommodation providers, visitor attractions, restaurants and shops all of whom benefit from the tourist pound.
However, we need to manage the economic power of tourism carefully to avoid unwelcome, and in some cases unforeseen, social and environmental consequences.
Selling the attractions of the South West is not a new phenomenon.
The idea that sea air and bathing delivers health benefits led to the emergence of fashionable resorts like Weymouth and Torquay and ultimately the phenomenon of mass tourism which has had such a significant impact on our coastline.
Later, new forms of tourism based on arts and culture and water sports emerged to become part of the ‘offer’ in places like St Ives and Newquay, emphasising the need for continuous reinvention in an increasingly competitive global market.
Some places have struggled to adapt to competition in a tourism market driven by low cost air travel and rising consumer expectations.
The demand for serviced accommodation – the traditional seaside hotel and guesthouse – has shifted leading to conversion into self-catering apartments and in some cases houses in multiple occupation.
This has given rise to a concentration of social problems linked to low pay and seasonal employment as well as benefit tourism.
Some coastal communities face similar challenges to those found in inner city areas, yet they have struggled to get the attention of policy makers or to attract resources in an era where economic development funding tends to be allocated based on opportunity rather than need.
Elsewhere tourism is flourishing, particularly in places accessible only by road and which did not see the widespread change that was brought by the railways in the 19th century and are valued for their traditional character as small ports and fishing villages.
However, the changing nature of tourism puts these communities under pressure as quite simply there is not enough space to go round, particularly in the peak season. Local roads and car parks are operating at capacity and local residents and businesses have to deal with months of inconvenience because of the congestion that arises.
More significantly, the qualities which attract tourists makes these places desirable locations to invest in real estate and with a limited stock of property available, because of planning and conservation policies aimed at maintaining the character of these places, values go up.