The summer holiday season was hard work, and it was with a sigh of relief that the August bank holiday came and went. There may however be sufficient “micro-stories” to justify giving a home to a few pictures that would otherwise never see the light of day.
while a fast road bike is still a seductive thing, I no longer own one. Bikes as tools for adventures, no matter how small, put a bigger smile on my face these days.
I’ve never been much of a spectator of sports, even during my dedicated ‘roadie’ days, riding/racing bikes always appealed far more than watching others do it, and for various reasons I largely lost interest in professional cycling during the Lance Armstrong years so it had been many years since I actually watched a race. With the grand depart of this year’s Tour of Britain being just down the road in Penzance however it seemed like I should perhaps make the effort to go and have a look. Preferring not to join to the crowds in Penzance, and not to dedicate half the day to catching 5 minutes of action, I made it an off-road fat-tired day ride across the moors, punctuated with a drop down off the moor briefly near Carn Galver to catch the passing peloton, before continuing on west to Pendeen Watch to meet a mate and drop a line in on the incoming tide for a few hours, in the hope of some fresh fish for tea. Watching the tour, and seeing a few old roadie mates pass by ahead of the race did stir something deep within; it’s 5 years since I last raced and while a fast road bike is still a seductive thing, I no longer own one. Bikes as tools for adventures, no matter how small, put a bigger smile on my face these days… and preferably off-road, since being hit by a car back in July I’m finding time on the road “stressful” to say the least…
August in the far west was particularly grim this year. Not just the overwhelming numbers of visitors, but the flavour of visitors too; a particularly nasty lot, with many instances of assault – physical and verbal – on local folk just trying to go about their business, and an attitude towards the Cornish and Cornwall that is perhaps best described as “abusive”.
Outside of Cornwall there are many misconceptions about tourism and Cornwall, and while it is somewhat off-topic for this blog I beg your indulgence for a moment while I take the opportunity to clarify a few things. “You Cornish should be grateful for tourists money” is a commonly heard refrain, and yet one that is quite misguided. Visitors have always been welcomed to Cornwall but the current reality is that tourism represents just 11-12% of the Cornish economy, and not even the Eden Project, Cornwall’s largest tourist attraction, makes it into the top 10 of Cornish businesses by revenue.
I hold out some faint hope that, at the very least, we can in future see fewer of the kind of people in evidence this year, and perhaps with some political will some sort of return to a flavour of tourism that, rather than being a destructive force, is a complement to Cornish life. I’m probably being naive.
Tourism is important however the bulk of the Cornish economy is formed, in no particular order, by manufacturing, technology, aerospace, food, farming, and fishing, with a strong representation too from creative industries. It’s true that tourism represents 20% of the jobs in Cornwall, but those are largely low quality jobs – the kind of seasonal, minimum wage work, such as cleaning holiday homes, that tends to trap people. The sad truth is that much of the meaningful revenue generated by tourism here leaves the county immediately; some 65% of covid business relief grants made here went to addresses outside of Cornwall – a good indicator of the degree to which the holiday business in Cornwall is no longer Cornish. Indeed, Cornwall these days is largely treated as a wealth-mine by those from outside the county with the means and economy of morals necessary to scoop up properties and flip them to AirBnB.
AirBnB in particular has been a disaster for Cornwall; a growing housing and homelessness crisis directly caused by both the inflation in house prices thanks to the demand for second homes, and by the fact that in August for example, when surveyed by a local charity, the ratio of AirBnB rentals to available long-terms lets was roughly 500 to 1, with just 21 long term lets available in the entire county. As such while people are happy to talk about the value of tourism to Cornwall, and how we should all be grateful for it, no-one in a position of influence seems willing to talk about the cost of tourism to Cornwall. The mental health burden, the burden to Council services, the overwhelming burden on local health services (the hospital and ambulance service has been in a permanent state of emergency for the duration of the summer holiday season), the cost of infrastructure and cleanup, and the cumulative environmental damage, not to mention the damage that a badly distorted housing market and an over-emphasis on tourism does to the prospects of young people especially.
Apologists for the second homes business frequently like to point out that their owners do contribute to the local economy too, when in residence, as if a weekly delivery from Waitrose and the occasional pint and packet of crisps in the local somehow makes up for the devastating effect second homes have on communities.
Personally I would like to see some degree of devolved autonomy for the Cornish, with the freedom to levy a tourist tax, as is done in many parts of the world, that can be used to fund infrastructure, support for creating opportunities for young folk for example; better regulation around holidays lets and associated tax loopholes, and better planning laws that can be used to stop developers concreting over the place with large luxury housing developments designed to appeal solely to the wealthy second, or third, home buyer or investor looking to grow their AirBnB/holiday let portfolio. Apologists for the second homes (as opposed to holiday lets) business frequently like to point out that their owners do contribute to the local economy too, when in residence, as if a weekly delivery from Waitrose and the occasional pint and packet of crisps in the local, assuming the community can still support one, somehow makes up for the devastating effect an abundance of second homes have on communities.
Some restraint from the mainstream media too would be helpful, rather than the relentless fetishisation of Cornwall on the TV and print/online travel articles; Cornwall is not a theme park; it’s a culturally distinct and historically rich area with a living, breathing, working population recognised as a national minority.
I hold out some faint hope that, at the very least, we can in future see fewer of the kind of people in evidence this year, and perhaps with some political will a return to a flavour of tourism that, rather than being a destructive force, is a complement to Cornish life. I’m probably being naive.
Anyway, enough of that.