Global tourism status: The secret to maintaining strong retail?

If the weather is anything to go by we are slowly starting to approach summer, which is always positive for businesses in the city of Cambridge. 

While many of the students return home for the holidays they are replaced by an influx of tourists and visitors who utilise the hotels and spend money in the shops and restaurants. 

We have seen tourist numbers increase dramatically over the last few years as Cambridge is, even more than ever, viewed by many global visitors as a must-see city and an essential part of the wider European experience. 

This. coupled with the large student body. has always helped to ensure the retail market in Cambridge has remained resilient. The historic and compact nature of the city has sometimes made it difficult for retailers to find units that are the right configuration and size but as the main shopping location in the region, this hasn’t been a significant enough deterrent to drive them further afield. 

Unlike retail rents around the UK, Cambridge rents have barely budged and even remained fairly stable during the last recession. On last review, in December 2016, rents stood at £280 per sq ft in the Grand Arcade while vacancy rates in key streets and schemes were less than five per cent. With vacancy rates so low, there is limited choice for retailers looking to move to and take space in the city centre.

Thankfully the need for new retail and leisure stock to support the growing workforce and catchment moving into the new residential and business accommodation that is being built around the city is being addressed. 

CB1 is going some way to provide that offer with a good choice of high quality retail, restaurants, and leisure space. In addition, L&G and Wrenbridge’s £20 million refurbishment and extension of the Grafton Centre to include new restaurant units and a hotel will also help. 

Retail and the way people shop has dramatically changed for shoppers over the last decade. Online shopping has become more prevalent and has been a contributing factor in a number of retailers falling into administration.

However, leisure has certainly been on the rise. Many will travel to shopping centres/locations to spend the day or evening at the cinema, visiting an attraction or trying a new restaurant as well as popping into a shop or two. This has led to landlords revaluating their retail mix and adding a considerable amount of leisure space to increase overall dwell time. The Grafton Centre and the refurbishment of the Vue Cinema are great examples of this within the main retail pitch.

Out of town retail caters more easily for this increased leisure focus. There are a small number of retail warehouse parks, of which the largest are Cambridge Retail Park and the Beehive Centre as well as Cambridge Leisure Park to the south of the city and the highly-anticipated Ely Leisure Village, which is due to open this month.

These tend to attract a wider local catchment and those that want the ease of driving without having to fight for a car parking space or pay through the roof for it, again fighting the online shopping phenomenon.

Fundamentally, whether a visitor or resident of Cambridge they all need activities to do and things to buy. With no other strong retail and leisure offer in the region the city will continue to thrive in this market and rents are set to stay resilient for the foreseeable future, despite Brexit and online retailing. Is the secret to maintaining a strong retail and leisure offer being renowned as a global tourist attraction?

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