Tourism in town: nuisance for students or window into uni life?

Photo: Meilan Solly
Photo: Meilan Solly
Photo: Meilan Solly

Despite St Andrews’ reputation as an isolated, peaceful town, spring has brought its share of prospective student tour groups, golf enthusiasts and Scottish holiday goers.

According to the St Andrews Partnership, St Andrews attracts 666,300 visitors per year. While some tourists visit the town to play golf on the historic Old Course or enjoy the picturesque scenery of West Sands, others visit for specific events.

For example, On the Rocks, which took place earlier this month, attracts about 6,000 visitors per year, while the StAnza Poetry Festival attracts 14,000 and the Open Championship attracts over 200,000.

Combined, visitors to the town spend 98 million pounds annually on everything from eating out to golf equipment.


While the tourism and rash of families are an economic gift to the array of bed and breakfast locations, boutique hotels and upper-end restaurants in town, students sometimes find the crowded streets and in-hall tours a nuisance.

University tour guide Kristen Friedman often finds herself very busy during open days, which are held nine times per year (four in the spring and five in the autumn). Prospective students can also arrange individual tours if their schedule conflicts with the University’s open days.

“I usually take two or three tours on Wednesdays (depending on the weather),” she said. “I’m not really a fan of going out in the rain.”

Ms Friedman, a first year studying international relations, sometimes finds herself overwhelmed by the sheer amount of interested students.

“The number of people coming to open days varies,” she said. “Sometimes there can be about 400 students. Sometimes there can be over 600. I think one earlier in the month had almost 700 students, so I ended up with a group of around 60 at one point. And pretty much all of the prospective students had brought at least one parent with them, so it was crazy.”

The tours cover some of the town’s most student-populated spots, like areas surrounding the castle, cathedral and the pier, where Ms. Friedman informs eager groups about traditions such as the pier walk, avoiding the PH and May Dip.

Tours also visit halls of residence, where students are often surprised to find visitors wandering past their rooms in the morning.

The University does not currently tell students if a tour route will include their hall, leading to some consternation by residents.

Often, Ms Friedman is privy to this irritation.

She said: “I’ve seen and heard a lot of people complaining about tour groups, and I’m not sure that’s fair.”

Ms Friedman noted that despite her best efforts, her tours do have an effect on passing students.

“Yeah, [students] may be caught up for 20 seconds while [they] walk around them, but I always try and make sure they don’t get in people’s path,” she said.

Still, Ms Friedman emphasizes the importance of these tours for current and future St Andrews students.

“I’m sure quite a few people here came on an open day and took the tours,” she said. “[Prospective students are] just having a look at where they might be spending the next four or five years of their lives.”

Similarly, visiting St Andrews even before open day has affected the college decision of some students.

First year biology and French student Claire Richmond was no stranger to St Andrews before her first open day.

She said: “I live in Glasgow, so it was fairly easy to visit St Andrews with my family.”

Visiting St Andrews before Ms Richmond knew where or what she wanted to study led her to make observations that would later inform her university options.

“A couple of times when we were staying in Fife, we took day trips there,” she said.

Ms Richmond joined the 65 per cent of St Andrews tourists who are day rather than overnight visitors.

Thanks to her day trips to the town, she said: “I definitely was under no illusions about St Andrews being sunny all the time after a couple of very windy beach walks.”

The imperfect weather didn’t scare Ms Richmond away, however. In fact, it may have had the opposite effect.

Ms Richmond said: “I have no doubt that having seen the town before and having fond memories of it confirmed my desire to study here.”

While some students may wish for warning or more privacy, student tour guides continue to offer prospective students a window into university life, and tourists continue to economically invigorate St Andrews.

Author: Maya Moritz


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