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Visit Cambridge and Beyond closed down as tourist numbers plummet amid coronavirus pandemic

Visit Cambridge and Beyond, which promoted tourism in and around the city, has been closed down after the coronavirus pandemic has made it unviable.

The destination management organisation could not continue after its income dried up, with tourist numbers plummeting and a lack of business for its organised tours.

Emma Thornton, CEO of Visit Cambridge & Beyon. Picture: Keith Heppell
Emma Thornton, CEO of Visit Cambridge & Beyon. Picture: Keith Heppell

Cambridge City Council, which helped to find Visit Cambridge and Beyond since its inception, expressed its regret.

The council said it had provided a financial grant and rent relief early on in the crisis as the organisation’s board drew up a new commercial operating model.

But that, too, has proved unsustainable.

Cllr Rosy Moore, executive councillor for climate change, environment and city centre, said: “I am truly sorry that Visit Cambridge and Beyond is yet another victim of the pandemic.

“The coronavirus crisis has had a massive impact on many businesses in Cambridge, particularly those depending on tourism from overseas and visitors who come from elsewhere in the UK.

“We pay tribute to all the staff at Visit Cambridge and Beyond and to partners who have supported it. Visit Cambridge and Beyond was reliant on visitors buying its products and services for its income, business that has totally evaporated since March.”

The city council said it was working with Cambridge Business Improvement District (BID) and South Cambridgeshire District Council to develop a tourism strategy and marketing plan to encourage domestic and international visitors to return to enjoy the city and surrounding area.

Amid concerns for jobs that rely on the tourism industry, the council said it would also work with the University of Cambridge, the hospitality industry and organisations outside the city to attract overnight visitors back later in 2020 and into next year.

In May, Emma Thornton, CEO of Visit Cambridge & Beyond, said: “We are not expecting to see any international visitors in this financial year. We are really looking at a local domestic market instead.”

Cambridge attracts 8.2 million visitors annually and the tourism industry is worth an estimated £849million to the local economy. The visitor economy is also said to be important to 22 per cent of jobs in the city.

In May, Visit Cambridge & Beyond CEO Emma Thornton told the Cambridge Independent: “A big part of (the visitor economy) has been international visitors and it’s going to take two to three years, from the indications we have had from a Visit England survey, to reach the same figures we had in 2019.”

Emma Thornton, CEO of Visit Cambridge & Beyon. Picture: Keith Heppell
Emma Thornton, CEO of Visit Cambridge & Beyon. Picture: Keith Heppell

Footfall in the city centre has picked up since lockdown restrictions eased, but has yet to return to pre-pandemic levels.

The council is reducing car parking charges from August 1 to £1 an hour to help entice shoppers and visitors back to the city, and is promoting the #StaySafeCambridge message on social media and other communications channels to encourage people to wear masks and adhere to social distancing guidelines.

Restaurants and bars are turning to al fresco options to help attract trade, which the council has pledged to support.

As the Cambridge Independent has reported, Parker’s Tavern - the University Arms Hotel restaurant - has opened up Parker’s on the Piece, an outdoor terrace for pizzas and light bites.

And Stem & Glory, the vegan restaurant in King Street, has turned to click and collect and delivery services upon reopening.

Cllr Moore added: “As travel restrictions are eased, the city council will be there, ready to work with our partners and hospitality businesses in Cambridge to market local tourism and overnight accommodation.

“We look forward to welcoming increased numbers of visitors again, initially from the surrounding area, then from across the UK, and in time to a return of international tourism.

“We recognise that the future pattern of tourism will be very different for at least the next three years, and in some ways permanently so.

“We will work together with those who are committed to support the recovery of the local visitor economy in a sustainable way and ensure that Cambridge’s residents and businesses benefit from this, particularly those who, like us, are willing to put their hands in their pockets when the time is right to invest in tourism promotion again.”

Details of the city council’s support for businesses can be found online at https://www.cambridge.gov.uk/coronavirus-information-for-businesses along with help for vulnerable residents.

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