Chinese tourists are almost always viewed as a positive for any destination around the world as they often spend more than their non-Chinese counterparts and are overall the largest and most valuable tourism source market. Large numbers of Chinese tourists, however, can lead to problems and generate complaints from residents, especially if the tourists come in large tour groups. Cambridge, England, home to the famed University of Cambridge, is attempting to tackle this problem by limiting the size of Chinese tour groups that travel to the city.
Large Chinese tour groups have been flocking to the mid-sized university town of Cambridge, frustrating residents
The problem lies in the narrow city streets of the scenic city, which boasts a modest population of just under 125,000. Much of Cambridge’s charm as a destination lies in its wealth of architecture, some of which dates back over 800 years. The city’s appeal to Chinese tourists is heightened by the reputation of the University of Cambridge. University towns all over the world have proved especially appealing to Chinese tourists, some of whom are prospective applicants looking to get a feel for life at prestigious foreign universities.
Unfortunately, the city’s layout and size is simply not ideal for large numbers of tourists and large tour groups. Emma Thornton, from the city’s destination marketing organization (DMO) Visit Cambridge and Beyond, told the BBC that 50-person tour groups standing in front of sites like the university’s King’s College were a “problem.” Some residents have also expressed frustration because of tour groups crowding streets.
Some Chinese tourists have even ignored signs and entered students’ bedrooms and climbed to the roofs of buildings to get a better view, according to some university students.
Cambridge attracts millions of tourists every year, but Chinese tourists are the fastest growing group
This, of course, is not simply a “Chinese tourist” problem. The university town is a world-renowned destination. It’s estimated that more than 7 million tourists visited Cambridge in 2017. That’s a big number of tourists for any city, but especially for one with only 125,000 residents. Nonetheless, Chinese tourists are the fastest growing tourist group, and that growth will likely exacerbate existing problems. While most of these tourists are day trippers who come to the city with a tour group, the number of Chinese overnight stays reached an average of 14,000 per year between 2014 and 2016, according to VisitBritain.
Tourism organizations intend to encourage Chinese travel operators to bring smaller groups, and the city council also wants to reduce congestion on city buses. One professor at Anglia Ruskin University recommended the implementation of a “tourist tax” that would tack on an additional $1.32-2.64 (£1-2) for overnight stays to help provide revenue for the city to cope with the large number of tourists and expand public transportation. The proposal was rejected by the city’s council, which argued the plan needed to be researched more.
While the city can alleviate some of the strains caused by large numbers of tourists, it may not be able to limit the size of tour groups
Moreover, the city’s large number of Chinese residents has prompted calls for the development of a Chinatown to draw in more visitors, but plans would place the potential attraction away from the city center, in a mostly undeveloped area near Cambridge North railway station, to reduce congestion.
Unfortunately, there may not be much that can be done to alleviate the issue of large tour groups, even if the city government implements regulations on tour group size. Enforcement will be difficult, if not impossible. From a legal perspective, determining what qualifies as a tour group can be challenging, and the city likely has little control over how tourists come to sightsee in Cambridge.