Tourism provides 2.8 per cent of the UK’s gross domestic product. But some smaller cities are beginning to feel overwhelmed by the number of tourists, and that the costs are beginning to outweigh the benefits.
Cities such as Oxford and Cambridge are usually packed with tourists during the summer months, and local officials have started to complain.
The university cities attract many Chinese students, and Chinese tourists are visiting the UK in increasing numbers. But the complaints are directed at tourists in general, not a specific nationality.
John Hipkin, a Cambridge city councilor, told the Guardian: “Tourism is a great part of modern life. But if it gets out of hand, it can threaten the character of tourist destinations.”
One of the attractions of Cambridge is punting on the River Cam－pole-driven boating－but the council banned punt operators from advertising and introduced a fine of 75 pounds ($98) last year.
Doctor Paul Hanna, lecturer in sustainable tourism at the University of Surrey, said: “The case in Cambridge is an example of this ‘tipping point’ having been reached, where local residents no longer see tourists as income generators, but rather they experience irritation and anger toward the inbound tourists that are disrupting and fragmenting normal social life.”
James Kennell, principal lecturer in tourism at the University of Greenwich, agreed that many destinations are now feeling the negative impacts of rising tourist numbers.
“Small, historic towns and cities struggle to accommodate increasing numbers of large groups, along with meeting the needs of individual travellers. The growth of accommodation options like Airbnb means that destination managers are finding it ever harder to know how many tourists are visiting their destination,” he said.
Tourism experts say that rising numbers of Chinese tourists to the UK are undoubtedly having an impact on the growth of the tourism sector, but they are a small proportion of the total.
However, they believe that as Chinese tourists have begun to venture farther outside of London, in groups or as independent travellers, they are having a much bigger impact in smaller towns and cities.
Despite the downside, China is indisputably the most valuable market for international tourism spending. Travelers from China spent $261 billion abroad in 2016, according to VisitBritain, the UK’s national tourism organisation.
More than 260,000 holidaymakers from China spent more than 500 million pounds in the UK last year, and students account for 42 per cent of Chinese visitors spending the night in the UK.
Kennell said Chinese tourism is a huge opportunity for the UK, but he believes it needs to be planned and managed sustainably.
“If Chinese visitors go to cities like Cambridge and find it overcrowded and not like they imagined, they won’t come back,” he said. – ANN