In defence of tourists
Hear me out
Sometimes, walking through Cambridge feels as though you’ve stepped seamlessly into Harry Potter; sometimes, negotiating your way to a supervision feels as though you’ve unintentionally stepped into an exceptionally weird level of Mario Kart.
The factor which distinguishes between these radically different experiences of King’s Parade is simple: tourists.
For better or for worse, the evidence suggests we can justifiably whinge about tourism in Cambridge. Partly due to the daily buses which whizz keen visitors up the M11, Cambridge was awarded the title of 'congestion capital of Britain' this year by Admiral Insurance (undoubtedly the crown all good universities aspire to!). Especially after the scarring experience of coming second to Oxford in The Time’s 2018 rankings, Cantabs can sleep easy knowing we’re definitely the best at something: queuing behind sightseers.
Alongside the vehicle and pedestrian congestion, the litter and noise generated by the booming tourist trade in Cambridge frequently feature in complaints by locals and colleges alike.
However, it’d be far too predictable to spend the next 400 words floundering about in self-pity because of the overshadowing presence of tourists in Cambridge. Trust me, I would really (really) relish the opportunity for a rant; as I type this, I can literally hear the dulcet tones of innocent passers-by being asked “Are you for the punting today, love?” floating through my window from the Cam.
The 8.1 million tourists who visited Cambridge in 2017 brought with them many things – most obviously the valiance to risk their lives by standing in the middle of the road for that elusive perfect photo on Magdalene Bridge. They also, however, brought purchasing power which delivered a £835 million boost to Cambridge’s economy, responsible for over 1/5 in our fair city.
For the past two years, Cambridge has held the shameful title of 'most unequal city in the UK', as the growing affluence of the colleges and the localised cluster of technology companies (labelled the ‘silicon fen’) have seen gentrifying forces increasingly sweep outwards from the city centre. With the top 6% of residents earning 19% of gross income generated in Cambridge – compared to the bottom 21% earning just 2% – the city needs to find a way to re-balance its economy towards the town, and away from the gown.
The tourist trade could be – and already is – one of the most powerful means of doing to. Given day-trippers’ determination to try a punting tour come what may (aka risking pneumonia for the privilege of sitting on small wooden log for an hour), tourism warrants a relatively reliable stream of income and employment opportunities for Cambridge.
There’s also no better one-way ticket to stardom than walking past tourists in your gowns. You may have not done your washing for 2 weeks but, to the captivated tourists around you, you’re a real-life Cambridge specimen worthy of being committed to permanent photographic record. Werk it.
As I hatefully stamp my way to the University Library on a Saturday, towing double my bodyweight in books, I could probably learn from visitors’ adoration of Cambridge. It’s necessary to become colour-blind to the city's magnificence when you’re here daily, because gaping filled with awe at John’s every morning would not be an effective way of making it to my 9ams. Still, it turns out that living in somewhere as beautiful as Cambridge is Actually Quite Cool (aside from the crushing intensity of one-on-one supervisions and fact that some students literally live in bunkabins!!! Woo!!!!).
It might provide some comfort to know that Visit Cambridge has recently announced plans to split up ‘problem’ tourist groups, which arrive en masse and render some streets ‘impassable’.
Until then, we remain very much entitled to complain about the tourist management problems loudly, passionately and (sometimes) drunkenly. However, by helping to bridge a chronic wealth gap, tourists themselves aren't a 'problem' at all.