They Might Seem Unrelated at First Glance, But They Are Deeply Connected
Have you ever noticed that many of the most desirable vacation destinations also seem to have a disproportionately high population of homeless people nearby? This isn’t simply a coincidence or the result of favorable weather conditions. From Hawaii to San Francisco to New York City, homelessness has increased alongside the rising cost of living that tourists inevitably fuel.
The Tourism Industry: Lucrative for Some, Devastating for Others
Tourism is a powerful force for helping the rich get even richer. What many don’t notice, however, is this almost always comes at the expense of the poor getting even poorer.
As soon as an area shows the first sign of becoming a tourist destination, investors flock to snap up available property, driving housing prices up in the process. Landlords evict long-term tenants because they can make more money renting properties out as short-term vacation rentals on Airbnb.
Too few cities have enacted legislation to prevent this from happening. So right now, this greed is going largely unchecked.
Even property owners who don’t want to deal with the frequent turnover of the lucrative vacation rental business will increase their rent prices as much as they can. This forces anyone who can’t afford to double or triple their monthly rent payment out on the street. Again, legal limits on rent increases have been implemented in too few places to protect vulnerable people and families.
If you’re living paycheck to paycheck and barely making ends meet, how would you handle your rent suddenly increasing by hundreds or thousands of dollars? With rent prices rising everywhere, you have little choice but to face eviction. And once you’ve been evicted, it becomes a lot harder to secure housing elsewhere. That’s if you even manage to find an affordable option, which is a long shot in itself.
We know that the lack of affordable housing is the leading cause of homelessness. We also know that gentrification spurred by increased tourism drives housing prices up. So, it should be no surprise that an increase in tourism is directly related to increases in homelessness.
But Doesn’t Tourism Provide Jobs?
One of the supposed benefits of tourism is that the industry provides plenty of jobs and a cash infusion to the local economy. It’s a common argument, but is it true?
More often than not, jobs created by the tourism industry are filled by people outside the area or pay too little for locals to keep up with the cost of living increases caused by tourism.
It’s common for local people to work for minimum wage, keeping a tourist attraction running all while living an hour or more away from work just to afford the basics – if they can even afford that much. Others live in motels, cars, or tents. All of this is even happening in the happiest place on earth.
So, the jobs argument doesn’t hold up. Unless you’re at the top already and can reap the benefits of a high-level job or increasing equity on properties you already own, tourism in your area will likely cause you more harm than good.
Tourists Don’t Want to See Homeless People
We now see how tourism drives up prices in an area without increasing jobs or wages for local people, forcing them into homelessness. Another cruel irony is that these tourist attractions can be some of the most inhospitable places for homeless people. Why? Because the typical tourist doesn’t want to have their blissful vacation interrupted by the sight of the human suffering they’re contributing to.
Local businesses and governments in destination areas can be very aggressive about sweeping homeless encampments and criminalizing homelessness. Their priority becomes keeping anyone who looks homeless out of sight because they don’t want any tourists to be “scared away” from spending money at the local tourist trap.
Services in many of these areas are non-existent as well. Despite the high rate of employee homelessness at Disney World, Osceola, Florida, where Disney World is located, doesn’t have a single homeless shelter in the entire county.
So, when you have no shelter to go to but there’s also a new ordinance against camping or lying down in public, where will you end up? For too many, the answer is jail.
Tourists Divert Resources from Locals
We commonly think of tourism dollars as a powerful force for improving towns and cities blessed to receive them. In reality, this is rarely how it works.
A small portion of tourism revenue may initially improve areas that tourists are likely to visit. However, this has little bearing on the lives of everyday residents except to drive up the cost of living.
However, the majority of tourism dollars tend to go into the already hefty bank accounts or investment portfolios of executives. You know, the airline you flew on to get there. The big hotel chain you stayed in. The restaurant group where you dined. Very little of it trickles down to the local destination. And even that doesn’t do much for the actual residents of that place.
In tourist towns, everything hinges on the whims of the tourist. The tourist has the money that will line the pockets of corporate entities and far-off investors. Therefore, everything is catered to the tourist. Meanwhile, the locals, particularly the poorest among them, are left in the lurch.
Without government intervention to prevent it, all available resources are directed to improve the tourist experience. This leaves the full-time residents of the community with little to nothing.