While plenty of European countries are wrestling with overtourism and how best to manage visitor numbers, the UK government doesn’t think it has a problem.
In the first 10 months of 2017, 13.4 million people visited the UK on holiday, a 13 percent rise compared with the previous year. The attractive exchange rate enticed plenty of these visitors thanks to the pound’s fall after the Brexit referendum in June 2016.
Speaking at an event in London Tuesday, Rebecca Stewart a senior policy advisor on tourism at the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport, said it was important to talk about overtourism but it wasn’t yet something the UK has to overcome.
“These days no discussion about sustainable growth can or should eschew the discussion of the impact of tourism and it’s right we should start to consider what should or in fact could be done to create resident unrest in this country,” she said.
“We don’t believe that high visitor numbers are yet a problem in the UK but we do believe that it is responsible to consider how we can continue to ensure a balance between the visited and the visiting.”
Stewart’s comments neatly encapsulate the conundrum governments face. Few countries want to risk saying tourism is actually a problem because this might suppress numbers. But in these same countries we see a backlash against what locals see as favoritism towards tourists.
A Local Cambridge Official Disagrees
London is the world’s third-most visited city with 19.2 million arrivals, according to Euromonitor International. London’s mayor, Sadiq Khan, appears well aware of the challenges this poses. Last year, he spoke about encouraging more people to visit outside of peak months, and also to explore more of the city.
Elsewhere in the UK, other cities are struggling to cope with increased demand.
Cambridge is one-and-a-half hours outside of London and famous for its university. In 2016, an estimated 7.6 million people visited the city – 2.2 million more than in 2013.
John Hipkin, a local government representative from Cambridge, said at the same event that he had “no problem with encouraging tourism but it’s got to the point where some people locally… are beginning to feel that their place, the city in which they live, has been sacrificed to the tourist industry.”
Hipkin said day trippers, who make up the vast majority of tourists but who only spend $17 (£12) per person on average, contribute most to the problem.
“For the resident, for the person who lives in the city, looking to shop or meet a friend for coffee, it is an impossible situation,” he said.
A Warm Welcome?
Identifying overtourism is relatively easy, compared with finding a solution. Last year, Skift put forward a number of ideas but each destination is different. London is not the same as Cambridge.
The difficulty is that when a destination starts talking about managing tourists, it can have a negative effect on potential visitors.
After all, there are plenty of places in the UK that could do with the extra money tourism brings in.
“I think we need to be careful not to be sending out messages that actually we are full, we’ve done very well and therefore job done, said Deirdre Wells, CEO of travel association UKinbound.
All those quoted attended the Westminster Media Forum event, entitled: The UK Tourism Industry Post-Brexit – Skills, Investment and the Industrial Strategy