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Staying in a tent in a public park may not seem the ideal way to experience a city for the first time. But, with a shortage of hotel beds available in Cardiff this weekend, it is one option open to football fans arriving for Saturday’s Champions League final.
The biggest concern for city officials is that supporters might simply take the train back to London after the match without spending the night. That uncertainty raises the question of whether Cardiff Council’s £45m estimate of the economic gain from hosting the event will materialise.
When Lisbon hosted the match in 2014 it netted an estimated €45m (£39m). Of this, 54 per cent was spent on overnight stays, 22 per cent in the city’s restaurants and bars and 7 per cent on other tourist activities. When the final went to London in 2011, the city earned an estimated £43m.
Academics have long argued about the merits of relying on large single events to boost tourist income. Professor Calvin Jones, an economist specialising in tourism at Cardiff University, wrote a paper in 2001 saying there was a “growing body of academic literature concerned with the negative and ambivalent effects on the host economy of hosting hallmark and mega events”.
But this strategy of relying on blockbuster events has been central to Cardiff’s tourism plan ever since 1999, when the city’s newly built Millennium Stadium (since renamed Principality Stadium) hosted the Rugby World Cup. In 2018, Cardiff will be one of 12 city venues worldwide for the Volvo Ocean Race, a sailing competition that covers 46,000 nautical miles from Alicante to The Hague, via Cape Town, Hong Kong and Auckland. Organisers say it will be the first time the race has visited the UK in more than decade.
Gareth Berry, tourism projects manager at Cardiff Council, says the yacht race will take place sometime in May or June, “depending on tides in the River Severn estuary”.
It is important to get the policy right, he says, because tourism is the city’s second biggest employer after financial and professional services.
The council estimates tourism’s total economic contribution to the city last year was about £1.2bn. Figures from the Office for National Statistics show that Cardiff received around 310,000 business visitors in 2015. Over the same period, Edinburgh — the UK’s best performing city after London — received more than 1.5m.
In a rank of 20 UK cities by visitor numbers, using international rail and air passenger statistics, Cardiff came tenth, ahead of Leeds and Nottingham but behind Bristol and Brighton.