Cambridge too at Peak tourism

Cambridge too at Peak tourism

Cambridge hits peak tourism: what next?

Tourism is out of hand worldwide: what shall we do?

Cambridge has joined the list of European cities struggling with excessive tourism: It's time to review our response to the phenomenon which might destroy the lovely place tourists come to see. What we can get right to improve our life too?

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In answer locally, we put forward below a seven-point 'Charter for Tourists' to forestall as wrote Oscar Wilde, no mean traveller himself, our living up to his chilling line 'Each man kills the thing he loves.' The tourist influx is now so oppressive in places as far apart as Barcelona, burdened by ill-behaved crowds, to the far flung Isle of Sky, where cars came to a solid gridlock on its new bridge last week. Tourism, which has  has doubled globally in the past 20 years, now appears to be strangling the very experience it wants to create.

Where once visitors were welcomed in the historic cities of Venice, Dubrovnik San Sebastian, demonstrations from locals and hostile graffiti greet them stepping off the massive cruise ships that dock in their once peaceful ports. The scale of these visits -- fueled by cheaper air travel, more worldwide hotels and greater overall prosperity -- has begun to look like an assuault.

Cambridge, recipient of some 4 million tourists annually, and growing every year, has needs to address its own tourism issues, including streets overpacked with herds of tourists and transport issues causing polluting traffic to a trend to market stalls selling smelly food burdensome to other local residents and businesses.

A friend of mine to complain when I met her for lunch in the city centre. 'I am late. But I literally could not walk down Trinity Street. It was jammed from one side to another with organized bands of – tourists. None of them seems to understand they’re on a road and no one looks you in the eye never mind gets out of your way.'

Councillor John Hipkin has lead a minor revolt against the numbers of tourists in Cambridge – and has himself come in for mordant criticism as he is a walking tour guide. Unsurprisingly everyone feels it is someone else’s job to ‘control things,' yet a spokesman for the Council held out very little hope that they would vote in a proposal for a tourist tax, however small, calling it, 'unlikely and unprecedented.'

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Yet we live in unprecedented times. Many feel Cambridge is host to too many day-trippers who contribute little to the local economy and cost the town dear

'I think that it’s a shame the Council doesn’t levy a small charge,' says Camilla Grove, a 29-year-old resident, 'If they did, tourists would be allowed to participate in maintaining the city they admire. And residents would feel more of a sense of justice, not as now where everyone is aware that their Council tax is what keeps the services for tourists in good shape.'

There is no question -- tourists do impose a strain on local amenities -- but often these outrages are only following the rules, like the Chinese visitor seen by  mother of two Sophia King trundling a Sainsbury’s trolley stacked with barbecues on to Jesus Green one evening, 'I couldn’t believe it. These visitors were ready to start literally 20 barbecues on virgin grass.' 

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Who to blame for what looks like abuse of local services? Is it the I individuals themselves? Shirley Brazier, an English language teacher, thinks not. Chinese people, recently visiting en masse as a result of loosening of home restrictions on their movements are often a source of annoyance. 'But in their very civil culture,' she says, 'it is actually rude to look anyone in the eye directly. No wonder there are problems running into them in the street when they’re being lead around in over-large groups.'

In Barcelona – a city that has seen more than its fair share of intrusive behaviour from tourists for decades now, a new tourist chief Signor Front is taking up the campaign to improve things up to 2020. Born and bred in Barcelona, he recognizes the pleas of its populace overwhelmed by millions of visitors – many of them stag and hen groups with huge amounts of liquor inside them, but he thinks the way forward is not hostility, 'Tourists do not have to be considered passive players… but rather as visitors with rights and duties,' he declares. It’s a creative way forward and given the often appalling behaviour of Brits in his home city, a tolerant one.

As a boy in Barcelona, he remembers that oafish antics got people’s backs up. 'When tourists dress differently to us, eat differently and are active at different times of the day,' he says, 'we resent them much, much more.' He feels that informed tourist manners and consideration for the native team is what will improve things. 

The Italians have a forceful way of impressing this on tourists. Steps where they congregate eating outdoors are hosed down regularly in Florence and in Rome they have Police making arrests for abuse of ancient buildings by sitting on them, and eating anywhere they like. Venice has even banned wheelie suitcases ('But how will we get our stuff around? complained one visitor only to be met with a neutral shrug from the  Armani clad, made-up policewoman confiscating his on-wheels case.)

Much of the anger towards tourists in Cambridge is as much a symptom of how poorly local services function, so how about this 'Charter for Tourists' aimed at designing out the stuff that residents dislike most?

Parking on the Backs - It’s a world heritage site everyone, not a coach park. 

Solutions: Insist on coaches using the Park and Ride facilities as in Oxford. And Colleges – stop parking yourselves on your own land. St John’s has converted some of its playing fields to parking spaces down the Backs and Trinity comes and goes with its dual purpose lawn using it for cars when it chooses. Not much of an example.

Idling Engines  - People are aware that pollution is a huge issue in our congested city.

Solutions – Enforce already existing regulations against buses, coaches and cars idling engines. Not hard to instruct the city tourist guides stationed around the place to remind drivers to switch off engines.

Guided Tours - The present impasse in the streets with people following the flag mindlessly is driving residents quietly mad.

Solution: Ban them. Cambridge is a tiny place with a very small city centre. It’s called a city but it’s not Birmingham or Los Angeles, Ely is larger in its city centre area. Equip visitors including children with a map and let them go and find their way round the one or two streets they want to see. Possibly more and better signage which could be collapsed in winter? No need for lectures (pace John Hipkin and other doubtless great guides standing there tripping everyone up.)

Smelly Fast Food - Overpowering odours from proliferating fast-food stalls.

Fast food outlets springing up around the market square are all sanctioned by the Council. Get the quality of the market upscale with some traditional stalls and discourage out-of-town cooking stalls which emit fumes most people don’t like, and, imposedon other stallholders on the market square, who have to smell it day long and often have their clothes and goods impregnated with cooking fat smell. Onions are a real contentious food. Once banned by the Council they have crept back and now dominate the air in the centre. This is not a traditional high end feel to the market, which should be specializing in local fare and quality wares.

Market Square Squalour - Unbeautiful and rubbished.

Problem: It comes to something when your centre is as treeless and miserable as our market square. The central fountain is full of rubbish often and the huge ugly monolithic bins everywhere are appalling and smell disgusting.

Solution: There is room under the Square for an innovative bin system as brought in by Cambridge University in its Eddington development. Let’s get some clever minds at work on the town to solve waste problems and make our centre look lovely It can go high tech or low. Lindy Beveridge a one-time independent councilor advocates a Rubbish Horse to go round and round the market with a cart to collection stallholders rubbish.'Children could feed and pet it and it would look old fashioned and fun,' she adds. The Market Square needs trees, less road space and more flowers in summer. It’s a bit of a scandal when Cambridge, famous for flowers has so few for tourists to admire. Possibly the levy prosposed could go on this kind of beautification?

Taxis expensive and ugly, costing nearly £10 to come into Cambridge from the station  

Solution: Offer public transport. A shuttle bus into the centre from the Railway Station-free or minimal cost. Taxis should take second place in the transport system and also be better regulated with no diesel cars and encouragement of low carbon, good-looking Hackney style housings to make them more of a civic feature. This styling was considered by the Council but abandoned for some reason years ago. Now taxis pay as little as £360 to run an immensely lucrative business and their cartel means fares are higher than in London.  

Crowded pavements - Too many people.

Solution: It’s clear and most places the size of Cambridge have done it already – extend pedestrianisation of the city centre, leaving room for all and not force residents and tourists alike to walk a perilous path avoiding large buses ploughing through the medieval centre.

At the moment the city council are taking the long and arduous route through Westminster legislation in order to ban punt touts, who can of course be a nuisance. However on my walking tourist tour of Cambridge I observed courteous punt touts with queues of people asking for their services in the centre of town. True they look largely dreadful, more like drug dealers than Edwardian gentlemen, but that could surely be changed with some cooperation? Of the few things there are to do outside in Cambridge, punting is often the most fun and aside from river overcrowding on some days, seems to work quite well.

I also saw stallholders in town helping tourists find their way – historically as well as on foot. 'No there is no St. Andrew’s College’ one lemonade seller was explaining to someone in search of Prince William’s Alma Mater,' 'That’s St. Andrew’s in the North of Scotland.' And even if I did hear one punt chauffeur describing the entry of Robin Hood into Cambridge over Magdalene Bridge, he later told me his mostly Eastern clientele hadn’t heard of most real people and Robin added a bit of recognizable colour to the otherwise rather dull tour. 'They love him – and his Merry Men’ he explained, so why not a bit of elaboration on that theme, at least it’s old and more or less true.'

Such a light touch with tourism is what makes Cambridge such a welcoming place where we can all learn a little something about the world beyond: 'Are you a local?’ enquired two girls as I turned into my street.'If so can we have a picture with you for our project, we have to be in a photograph with a genuine Cambridger.'

I was happy to oblige, knowing a picture of me would be winging its back to Brazil within the hour. All part of the fun.

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