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Cambridge, Tour de France and local on-the-day economics

With the Grand Depart from Leeds, Yorkshire, across the hilltops over to the flat plains of Cambridge – the global image, spectacle and economic stimulus of the Tour de France aka ‘Le Tour’ graces the streets of Cambridge today. But what does Le Tour mean for the people, businesses and institutions of the city? Is it all just hype and spandex? Or are there some true, real, positive net economic benefits from hosting the Games? And can we even consider the ‘economic benefit’ as being a simplistic ‘return on economic investment and human time’? I believe not, and I explain why below in relation to the immediate on-the-day economic effects.

Simplistically, economic impact will attempt to understand how much visitor money flows in to the local economy as a result of hosting such a major event, and whether than money is from domestic visits or from (hopefully!) a sound turn out of European and international friends. The local economy hopes that visitors find their way in to every nook and cranny, down the querky city side streets, where retail; souveniers; lunch and cultural activities converge in to a spectacular Cambridge day out.

However, one of the key issues to consider here is the nature of ‘event tourists’. Evidence suggests, alongside my own empirical work from London 2012 and Sochi 2014 that sporting event tourists stay on ‘track’. Mind the pun. They behave differently from the standard cultural tourist. They watch, eat, and sleep (that is if they are not a 1 day visit) and rarely enjoy the cultural fruits that cities’, towns’ and communities’ have to offer. By and large we may find out they are not here for ‘Cambridge’; but rather the Cambridge Tour de France Stage 3 leg. You take out the 6-word suffix and we may find a trail of dedicated cycling enthusiasts bound for the next phase of the race.

Certainly, having spoken with a band of this demographic on the start line this morning between 8am – 12midday, this was certainly their ambition. After the starting pistol, goodbyes were met with a ‘must dash’, got to catch ’em up. Was this portion of tourism staying to enjoy the delights of Cambridge? May be, possibly, a quick pint and a hot dog on Parkers Piece.. What we can however consider are the plans Cambridge planners put in place for the race and retaining tourism. The big screens, the kids play areas, plenty of food and drink options – quite clearly good plans were in place. However, I cannot help but consider the potential role of the necessary barriers and securisation of space will have on centralising tourism around Parkers Piece as opposed to dispersing it, and its dosh, across the city. Only research and time will tell as to how Cambridge’s Tour de France spectators navigated around the city, spent their money over an eclectic range of activities, and enhanced and acted as a stimulus for short-term economic return. This is therefore a to be continued…

However, although this post focuses around the on-the-day local economics of Le Tour – we have to consider event-related economic and tourism as a process. One that started much before the conception of this post. We must consider the planning and pre-event economic impact of hosting such an event. For example the global marketing and city showcasing Cambridge may have benefitted from as being chosen as Stage 3 host of Le Tour. We also have to consider the branding effects – the changing perceptions of Cambridge as a city not just blessed with ‘alma maters’ and heritage tourism, but as a future city of cycling. Will this drive a new demographic of tourist to Cambridge? Will this change behaviours of current residents, enhance and build up on the work of local cycling organisation ‘Sustrans’ to promote more environmentally friendly travel behaviour?

The post-event legacy effect is clearly complex.

However, the legacy is one that needs to be planned for – and in this respect Cambridge has done this successfully in a variety of ways – from building cycle routes to continuing the momentum of cycling in the city thanks for the Velo Fest and grants available through the council. Will the Tour de France 2014 lead to a positive economic, social and cycling legacy in the city over the next 1, 3, 5 or 10 years? Time will only tell… but the future certainly looks bright for Cambridge.

Interested further in this topic email: Michael.Duignan@anglia.ac.uk

Below, the ITV Anglia News clip (4 July, 2014)

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