You can spend thousands marketing your community as a friendly tourist destination. You can give frontline staff intense customer service training. And you can hang potted plants from lampposts to create a welcoming atmosphere.
And then blow it all with one big, unfriendly NO PARKING sign. Or complicated regulations that leave visitors scratching their heads, usually with a parking ticket in the other hand.
Case in point: This complaint letter from comedian Eugene Mirman to the city of Portsmouth, NH. He and his girlfriend had visited the city’s downtown, paid for 3 hours of parking and spent 2 hours shopping. When they returned to the car, there was a ticket tucked under the windshield wiper.
“What could this possibly be for?, I thought. Is it a crime in Portsmouth to not use all of the parking you bought? How’d you know I’d be back early? Do you have a PreCrime division? ... But no, I read the violation -- we backed into a spot and were being fined $15 for being ‘parked in the wrong direction.’
“What kind of horse$&it charge is that? It’s illegal to back into a spot? Before I embarrass myself, I want to make sure that Portsmouth is still in the United States and not considered a part of Iran?”
There’s more, and it’s pretty funny, but you get the idea.
HOT BUTTON ISSUE
Parking can be a hot button issue in any community. City officials and merchants want to make sure patrons can park reasonably close to the shops and restaurants where they plan to spend money. Time limits, parking meters and no parking zones are tools they use to make sure the spaces turn over with regular frequency. But tourists don’t care about policies. They just want to get out of their car, explore, spend money and have fun. Parking tickets are not fun.
(OK, sometimes there’s a good reason for not parking in a particular place, like this volcano in Hawaii. Now that's a hot button issue.)
For Deadwood, a tourist destination, in the narrow confines of a steep canyon, parking issues are compounded by a lack of flat ground.
That’s apparent during Kool Deadwood Nites. The city overflowed with hundreds of very cool roadsters, muscle cars, hot rods and rat rods. On top of that, thousands of folks came to see the cars and hear free music on Main Street. Vehicles lined the highway, the side streets, the alleys and just about anywhere else visitors could find.
Deadwood does a better job than most communities. Trolleys carry people from one end of town to the other. And during Kool Deadwood Nites, the Deadwood Chamber set up a shuttle from the Akela Spa to downtown. Other services such as Da Bus have also made it easier to get around during big events.
Because anywhere there are cars, there are parking problems. And anything a city can do to make parking easy and available will be welcome by locals and visitors alike.
After all, it’s good for business.