Cambridge wants tourists to explore beyond famous schools
Ninety teenage girls from Uruguay packed into the Harvard Shirt Shop on Massachusetts Avenue on a recent afternoon, scooping up $10 Crimson key chains and $50 university sweat shirts.
They had visited Harvard and MIT during a half-day stop in Cambridge on their three-week trip to the East Coast. Then they hopped on a bus and crossed the river to eat and shop in Boston.
It was a typical Cambridge tourist visit — a fact the city officials would like to change.
“I watch them charge off the buses every morning, take pictures, and get back on,” said Richard Rossi, the city manager. “I think Cambridge has a lot more to offer. We need to promote the off-beat stuff to get people out to our neighborhoods.”
The Cambridge Office for Tourism is trying to capture a greater share of the state’s $18 billion tourism industry by branding the city as more than its ivory towers. A new marketing campaign pumps up the city’s eclectic neighborhoods, from local retailers along Brattle Street to a tour highlighting scientific innovations at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and companies in Kendall Square.
Domestic travelers spent $6.7 billion in Boston in 2012, nearly nine times the $760 million they shelled out in Cambridge, according to the Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism. The office doesn’t track international traveler spending by city but said foreign visitors spent roughly $1.7 billion in Greater Boston.
Robyn Culbertson, the executive director of the Cambridge Office for Tourism, hopes the campaign will boost money spent at local museums, hotels, restaurants, and shops.
Her agency created a new “Cambridge in 60 seconds” video featuring a young woman visiting the Longfellow House and the Harvard Museum of Natural History, stopping in coffee shops, shopping at Oona’s Experienced Clothing, buying produce at a farmers market, eating at the Russell House Tavern, and enjoying a glass of wine on a boat operated by the Charles Riverboat Co. There are only a few scenes of the city’s colleges, including a shot of a tourist rubbing the shiny foot of the John Harvard statue in Harvard Yard.
New visitor pamphlets offer more than 60 arts, educational, musical, and recreational attractions in the city. Culbertson plans to create videos on each neighborhood, which will be featured on the new website.
She said attractions like a new innovation tour in Kendall Square and on the MIT campus are showing travelers another side of the city. Run by Cambridge Historical Tours, it focuses on Cambridge’s scientific community, including the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research, the David H. Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research, pharmaceutical giant Novartis AG, the MIT Media Lab, and the Broad Institute.
But some tour operators aren’t convinced that their customers want to spend more time in Cambridge.
Rafael A. Torres, president of Spanish-speaking tour operator Don Quijote Tours in Quincy, said many of his clients only have a few days to experience Greater Boston.
Harvard and MIT are internationally recognized institutions and often considered must-see destinations. Lesser-known Cambridge attractions, such as the Museum of Science or the Longfellow House, have to compete for time with major Boston draws such as Boston Common, Fenway Park, and Newbury Street.
“Priorities count,” said Torres, who led the group of Uruguayan teens. “People don’t know anything about Cambridge other than Harvard and MIT.”
But some others are open to the idea of adding Cambridge tours.
Boston Duck Tours pass by the Museum of Science but otherwise don’t enter Cambridge and only come as close as the middle of the Charles River. Chief executive Cindy Brown said the company tried to add the city to its route 20 years ago but were blocked by residents who didn’t want military-style vehicles on their streets.
“We wouldn’t be opposed,” Brown said. “We’re always open to expanding our business. There are plenty of people in Boston who are interested in visiting Cambridge.”