What does ‘being open for business’ on Sanibel mean?
To the editor:
The Sanibel City Council is to be applauded for its efforts to prohibit buses that bring large numbers of people to our beaches. Bringing busloads to our community is inconsistent with the Sanibel Plan, it increases stress on our beaches, it undermines the vision of Sanibel as a sanctuary island and a small town that lives in harmony with nature, it is a threat to public safety, and it will further clutter our congested roads, beach entrances, and parking areas.
Vice Mayor Doug Congress dissented from prohibiting buses with this curious statement: “It tells people Sanibel is not open for business. We need to look at the unintended consequences of this. If you have 40 people on a bus that is ticketed that’s 40 people leaving Sanibel with a bad experience and believe me their (sic) will post it on Trip Advisor and other social media. I don’t think we want that message for Sanibel.”
Nothing personal, but I don’t think the views of Mr. Congress fit with Sanibel’s past or future. Let me say why: First, if stopping busloads of non-residents at our beaches tells people that, “Sanibel is not open for business,” I wonder what kind of business he is talking about. Any research I have seen about what makes people want to visit or live on Sanibel suggests a very different attitude. People want to be on our island because it is natural, small-scale, and limited in commercialization. I bet that any news about turning away buses would only increase market appeal for the people who spend the bulk of money on Sanibel – that is hotel guests, condo renters and most important, homeowners. As for neighbors from surrounding communities who enjoy our beaches, they come here because Sanibel beaches are not overcrowded so I doubt they will be turned off by efforts to protect what they like.
Second, fear about possible comments on the internet is no excuse for inaction. Worrying about some potential cyber-grippers should not be a criterion in trying to craft a policy about the health and safety of our community and its beaches. What should be important is what Sanibel residents think and what science and common sense dictate, not what some casual visitor may say on a web-site or other media platform. While public attitudes and perceptions are important, we should be most concerned about those of Sanibel citizens and those visitors who contribute the most to our economy and culture. Otherwise we will be misled by opinion that is of little or no matter. This is the danger of considering social media as a justification for public policy.
Tension between resident, commercial, and environmental interests exist in all communities. What is special about Sanibel is that commercial interests have always been mediated by environmental concerns and the will of residents who pay the greatest portion of our taxes. For the most part, over time, Sanibel business owners have respected this public philosophy, and Sanibel residents have appreciated our island businesses. So, Sanibel is hardly anti-business, but hopefully it will never be “open for business” without thought or limits. That is why Sanibel residents incorporated our city in the first place.