As the end of August approaches and advertisements for back-to-school supplies are on newspaper coupons and televisions, I’ve also noticed what slows down in my current location is the amount of tourists in town. Although Bryce Canyon and Zion National Park are still on many people’s radars for the 100th Anniversary of the National Parks and prevalent on many travel bloggers’ Instagram accounts, I’m intrigued to see how the local culture in Cedar City changes when September begins. At my current job, I’ve seen plenty of families and couples filter through the museum and stand in line at the ticket office, but with Southern Utah University students arriving how will it change the atmosphere of southern Utah? Once fall has settled in and tourism season comes to a close, how will the town change?
Cedar City isn’t the only small town where I’ve seen a shift in the atmosphere of a small town. When I interned at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland several years ago, I saw a different side of tourism coming to a small town. In early January through February, the town was quiet and it was fairly easy to navigate through Main Street uninterrupted and browse through shops. With snow off and on and colder weather, it was easy to pay a visit to a local restaurant and get a cup of soup quickly. Talking with local shop owners, there seemed two different feelings about the Festival opening in the upcoming weeks: they loved the business, but they missed the peace and quiet and available parking. It only took a few days at the beginning of March for me to see what they meant. I began to see how the town came to life as people from out-of-town headed to the theatres to see a show, but unfortunately higher prices for the dinner menu and more people begging and harassing for money came along with the tourists.
Even though these changes occur in cities too, it seems the effects are much more noticeable in a small town. It makes me wonder, is this how people living in remote lands in foreign countries feel about tourism too? Are their feelings the same as small business owners in Ashland as they haggle over prices with tourists in a local market? How does having tourists come and go change their communities? There have many ideas and debates about what makes a tourist and what makes a traveler—does it mean it is better to be one over the other? As I travel more and experience more of the world, I keep in mind that one term isn’t more favorable than the other, because in some ways we are all tourists. As I experience the shift of tourism in Cedar City this fall, the one takeaway I have is a reminder from the Dalai Lama, “We are all on this planet as tourists. None of us can live here forever.”