CAMBRIDGE City Council has expressed its great regret, along with other partner organisations, that the destination management organisation serving the city and wider Cambridgeshire, Visit Cambridge and Beyond (VCB), is set to close.
The council has helped to fund VCB since it was established and had provided an additional financial grant and also rent relief support earlier in the Coronavirus crisis. This support was given in the context of the sudden and huge drop in tourist numbers and while the VCB Board reviewed its business plan.
Despite the VCB Board approving what it felt to be a viable new commercial operating model, the actual impact of Coronavirus in reducing tourist numbers to Cambridge was so severe that the new income targets and lack of business for their organised tours meant the organisation was no longer a going concern.
This was in spite of major efforts by VCB staff and its Board. As a result, the VCB Board has had no option but to close the business.
Cllr Rosy Moore, Executive Councillor for Climate Change, Environment and City Centre, said: “I am truly sorry that Visit Cambridge and Beyond is yet another victim of the pandemic.
“The Coronavirus crisis has had a massive impact on many businesses in Cambridge, particularly those depending on tourism from overseas and visitors who come from elsewhere in the UK.
“We pay tribute to all the staff at Visit Cambridge and Beyond and to partners who have supported it. Visit Cambridge and Beyond was reliant on visitors buying its products and services for its income, business that has totally evaporated since March.”
The council is now actively working with partners, including Cambridge Business Improvement District (BID) and South Cambridgeshire District Council, to develop a tourism strategy and tourism marketing plan to support both domestic and international visitors returning to enjoy the city and surrounding area’s visitor attractions.
This builds on the initial work to safely reopen Cambridge following lockdown and the current campaigns and short-term marketing initiatives that aim to support increased footfall in the city centre in the coming weeks and months. As well as the reduction in car parking charges from 1 August the council and partners are promoting the #StaySafeCambridge message on social media and other communications channels.
The city council is committed to working with Cambridge University, hospitality businesses and organisations outside Cambridge to make further targeted interventions to attract overnight visitors safely later in 2020 and particularly in 2021 and to regrow tourism businesses on which so many jobs depend.
Council, Cambridge BID and partnership initiatives have already encouraged increased numbers of shoppers and local visitors to return. As lockdown restrictions have lifted, the city centre has seen steady week on week increases in footfall since May, a trend expected to pick up further in August and the autumn.
Cllr Moore added: “As travel restrictions are eased, the city council will be there, ready to work with our partners and hospitality businesses in Cambridge to market local tourism and overnight accommodation. We look forward to welcoming increased numbers of visitors again, initially from the surrounding area, then from across the UK, and in time to a return of international tourism.
“We recognise that the future pattern of tourism will be very different for at least the next three years, and in some ways permanently so.
“We will work together with those who are committed to support the recovery of the local visitor economy in a sustainable way and ensure that Cambridge’s residents and businesses benefit from this, particularly those who, like us, are willing to put their hands in their pockets when the time is right to invest in tourism promotion again.”
Meanwhile, work is under way to assist food and drinks establishments to add appropriate outdoor spaces and expand their trade.
The council is providing a range of support for hospitality sector and other city centre businesses, details of which can be found here: https://www.cambridge.gov.uk/coronavirus-information-for-businesses along with help for vulnerable residents.
Around £22 million in government grants has been paid out to local qualifying Cambridge hospitality, retail and other businesses, as well the funding of a large amount of business rate relief for city centre and other Cambridge businesses.