St Ives losing out to Penzance for foreign tourists

The Cornwall resort town of St. Ives must take stock and reassert itself, according to mayor Colin Nicholls. The tourism agency VisitBritain reported figures showing that foreign tourists have forsaken St. Ives for Penzance, with the numbers down by more than a third in the former and up by more than two-thirds in the latter. St. Ives must clean up its act, says Mayor Nicholls.

As a businessman himself, (he owns a hardware store in town) Nicholls says, “. . . you have to get your product right.” He remarked that foreign tourists – in the case of St. Ives and now Penzance, increasingly German – are “very discriminating” and they’re looking for excellence in product and service.

Some aspects of the hospitality industry in St. Ives are not sufficiently inviting for these discriminating foreigners; Nicholls mentioned non-functioning public toilets, lack of parking, insufficient guest accommodations and poor service in the shops. The parking problem is certainly no secret; it has been reported that parking spaces in the town centre or right near the seaside are bought and sold for upwards of £50,000, usually by the owners of second homes who only live there part-time.

One of the area’s attractions for German visitors is the setting of novels by Rosamunde Pilcher, whose romances often took place around Devon and the Cornwall coast. Her books have been adapted for German TV for more than thirty years and enjoy a great deal of popularity.

There has been no definite reason cited for the shift in tourist numbers from St. Ives to Penzance, but Dick Cliff, Penzance councillor and chairman of the chamber of commerce, said it helps that Penzance is ‘the gateway to Penwith’. Mr. Cliff also noted that not only Germans but Italians and “a whole raft of nationalities” were adding to the tourist scene.

It’s interesting to note, however, that in December of 2012 the Cornishman reported that in St. Ives only 4% of the shops were empty, and the town was named one of the top producers in the region. Penzance, on the other hand, had made a poor showing with 16% of its shops vacant. At that time Dick Cliff said the town just needed to live up to its full potential. He said, “We just need to fill up some of the empty sites and do a bit of work.” Now it seems it’s St. Ives’ turn to do so.