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An end to the ‘chaos’ of short-stay tourism in Cambridge?




Tourists at King's Paraade and Benet St line up together taking photographs: they are very welcome, but drop-by visits to Cambridge add to already-impossible traffic levels
Tourists at King's Paraade and Benet St line up together taking photographs: they are very welcome, but drop-by visits to Cambridge add to already-impossible traffic levels

Tourism in the city and immediate area should be managed by a Destination Management Plan (DMP) within three years, says Visit Cambridge as over-tourism threatens the “chaotic” approach that has gone unchallenged for decades.

Visit Cambridge proposes that the city join other historic locations across the UK in developing a DMP that will take an evidence-based, interventionist approach to managing the visitor economy. The University of Cambridge, Cambridge BID, Cambridge City Council and South Cambridgeshire District Council have agreed to provide funding and support for this ground-breaking initiative, which represents a significant departure from the traditionally fragmented approach to visitor management in Cambridge.

“Unlike many towns and cities across the UK, Cambridge has never had a problem in attracting visitors,” says Emma Thornton, CEO of Visit Cambridge and Beyond.

“For this reason, over the last two decades the city has actively avoided any investment in marketing or monitoring tourism. This passive management style has created a somewhat chaotic legacy: the city simply doesn’t have a sustainable strategy to ensure we are attracting and looking after the right sort of visitors, who will bring economic benefit to the region over an extended stay.

“Despite our international draw, we are perceived as a day-trip destination such that a staggering 88 per cent of our visitors stay for less than a day. The travel trade, for example, organises coach trips that include Cambridge as a two-hour stop en route to Oxford, Stratford and York.”

Punts on the River Cam are an iconic image the world over
Punts on the River Cam are an iconic image the world over

“A DMP for tourism is similar to the local plan a city might have for housing,” adds Ian Sandison, CEO of Cambridge BID. “A local plan ensures that development is well-considered, well-located and that the right infrastructure is in place to support it. That’s what we hope the DMP will achieve for our visitor economy.”

By 2017, 8.1million visitors were bringing £835million in economic value to the region and accounting for 22 per cent of local employment. VisitBritain projections suggest that this growth will continue at a rate of three per cent in volume and eight per cent in value, but data specific to Cambridge is thin.

“Cambridge is the only one of 13 destinations in the English Historic Cities group – which includes Bath, Oxford and York – that doesn’t yet have a DMP in place,” says Natasha Woollard, chair of Visit Cambridge and assistant director operations, East of England, National Trust. “It’s the right time for city stakeholders to come together and deliver a shared visitor roadmap for the city.”

“Ultimately, it’s about delivering a plan to manage tourism in a sustainable way, for Cambridge and the immediate surrounding area,” says Emma. “We want to provide a world-class visitor experience and enable all those who visit, live in and work in our beautiful city to enjoy it in harmony.”

Between now and mid-2020 Visit Cambridge will lead on the development of a detailed, proactive strategy that will form the basis of the DMP.

For some tourists, Cambridge is a box to be ticked and not much more. Picture: Keith Heppell
For some tourists, Cambridge is a box to be ticked and not much more. Picture: Keith Heppell



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