Tourism despoilation

By | Category: Travel tips & opinions


Yesterday at the Westminster Media Forum meeting on tourism, a different subject was raised by a Cambridge councillor, John Hipkin. It is the problem of having too many of us visiting his city.

He was not alone. Lord Inglewood who is President of the Cumbria Tourist Board also echoed the problem. In summer, the Lake District is inundated with visitors who come by coach, car and train. The effect on the local resources such as roads, accommodation, services like public conveniences can be significant and he referred to one attraction in the Lake district that regularly has coach loads of Chinese tourists not to visit the attraction but to use the toilets there! As a new, UNESCO World Heritage site, the Lake District can expect to see even more tourists from both domestic and overseas destinations.

Cambridge gets about nine million visitors a year and the majority head for the centre with its narrow streets and lanes. It puts a burden on locals as they try to go out their everyday lives. Knowing Cambridge well and having interviewed a decade ago one of the then tourism staff, the problem was known even then. Can a small place (only about 99,000 if you don’t include the university students) provide them with the facilities that modern tourists expect when it receives a hundred times as many visitors in a year more than the population? Should it it even do so?

panoramic view of the Lake District

the Lake District: the newest UNESCO World Heritage site

Cambridge also suffers from the problem of accommodation. Potentially there isn’t enough for all those who visit. Where could more be built? In the city where buildings are part of the Cambridge that visitors want to see how would you provide taht accommodation without either knocking some down or converting others? The obvious answer to build outside the city but then you have to have a method  to get them into the c ity such as buses, light railways or a fast road network. There is one other, possibly over-riding, factor; people like to stay in the place they visit.

The result has been that most of the people visiting Cambridge are day trippers; the sort of people who pay the least but still require basic facilities and a clean, attractive environment in which to walk around. It is estimated that day trippers contribute only about £12 per person in Cambridge. Is that enough to pay for all the facilities they demand?

The Rialto in Venice without the throng of tourists! Managing tourist numbers will become increasingly important for some destinations

The alternative is to substantially raise admission prices, introduce congestion charges, raise parking prices or some other financial pressure in the hope that this might deter some day trippers. Fewer day trippers would please some locals who feel that they are living in an attraction rather than a community.

Whilst the Department of Culture etc doesn’t see “over tourism” as a problem it certainly is in parts of the country other than just Cambridge and the Lake District. Stratford-upon-Avon, Oxford, Canterbury are in similar positions to Venice, Rome, Macchu Pico, and Barcelona in “suffering” from might be considered “tourism despoilation.” In each case it is the heritage that visitors come to see and altering that heritage to allow for more tourism helps remove the reason why visitors come. It isn’t like the US city of Orlando where tourism can be accommodated be they day-trippers or holidaymakers and where hotels can be easily put up because there is no heritage to despoil.

Managing future tourist numbers to destinations will be one of the big problems some places will face. Others would dearly love to have such a problem!

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