Tourism-related community planning is becoming more common, says Jim Howe, co-author of the book "Balancing Nature and Commerce in Gateway Communities."
"Communities really do have choices to make about their futures," said Howe, who works for The Nature Conservancy in New York state. "The question I would pose is: Do you want to make those choices yourself or do want to have them made by economic forces or investors, perhaps from outside the community?"
A successful planning effort can't come solely from a town government, Howe said. Input from the business community and other residents is necessary.
"You need to have a nucleus of people that can really bring together leaders in the community," he said. A plan should "respect private property rights and business, but give assurances that things we care about will last and endure."
A failure to plan for tourism can destroy the very things tourists come to see, said Ed McMahon, who co-authored the book with Howe and is a director of land-use programs at the Conservation Fund in Virginia.
"One of the tests to judge this is whether the character of the community is shaping and directing new development that's going in. Or is the development shaping the character of the community?" he said.
McMahon cited the example of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., which decided to reposition itself as an upscale family destination instead of a spring-break mecca for college students. The change brought fewer tourists but more money, he said.
"Tourism is not zero sum gain. People think more tourists mean more money, but that's not the case. Fewer tourists could mean more money," he said. "The goal of any community in tourism management is to maximize the benefits while minimizing the burdens."