Economic Influence of Surfing in Cornwall

The Economic influence of Surfing in Cornwall

Literature Review

The economic influence of surfing in Cornwall is put in context by an article by Billings (2005) who reported on the Cornwall Tourist Board’s search for an agency to handle its one million pound United Kingdom advertising account. There is no incumbent on the business, as the organization has previously used local agencies on a project basis, and this work has promoted initiatives such as Cornwall Pure Business, a recent drive to encourage businesses to relocate to the area. Tourism is in fact one of the biggest industries in the South-West, and in 2003 was worth 4.9 billion pounds, with one billion pounds of that generated by Cornwall, and hence has a major economic impact on the local area, and the United Kingdom as a whole.

The tourism industry also impacts on other aspects of the economy, with Meadwell (2002) claiming that Tourism is booming and office rents are up [in] Cornwall. In April 2002, Ryanair launched a daily flight from Stansted to Newquay and back, the number of cars using the A30 has increased year on year, and the number of holidays taken in Cornwall likewise. Yet as early as 2002, the tourist industry was helping to highlight a fundamental flaw in Cornwall’s plans for continued economic growth: the lack of transport infrastructure. The trains that are busy and slow, the A30: the main arterial route into the county, regularly gets snarled up with traffic because large chunks of it are still single carriageway [and] most agents put infrastructure at the top of their list of what the county must do to maintain the business momentum. (Meadwell, 2002) Indeed, it has been claimed that the amount of tourism overloading the transport infrastructure has actually hindered industrial development in the county, thus contributing to Cornwall’s status as a rural poverty area, with no other major industries.

These concerns on the status of the tourist industry as a whole are reflected in the surfing industry, with the Economist (2000) covering the economic effects of the Rip Curl Surf 2000 festival. The article claims that On the face of it, such glamorous surf events indicate a vibrant local sporting and tourist culture. But this is August, the height of the season. Already, because of the short English summer, thoughts are turning to September when the tourists go home. Despite the sunshine, the beaches and Rip Curl, Cornwall has for some time been England’s poorest county. The article goes on to discuss that, whilst much of the South West, notably Wiltshire to the east, has benefited from the increasing prosperity of London and the M4 corridor during the 1990s, Cornwall and Devon have slipped farther behind. Cornwall’s economy has been badly affected by the decline of traditional industries such as clay and tin, and the explosion in tourism has lead to unskilled seasonal jobs replacing the semi-skilled ones which were lost.

The Economist (2000) believes that a potential likely source of the region’s salvation might be quality tourism, such as ‘The Tate’, at St. Ives, a modern art gallery which has been a great success since it opened in 1993. This shift could potentially be supported by some of the indirect influences of surfing on the Cornish economy, the main one of which is the impact of the large surfing communities. For example, Marketing Week (2004) reported that when cult U.S. singer-songwriter Donavon Frankenreiter arrived in the United Kingdom to promote the release of his music album, he headed straight down to Cornwall, as he, together with surf legend Jack Johnson are already well known amongst the Cornish surfers. Indeed, according to the article, News of last Monday’s gig at Porthtowan’s Blue Bar spread so quickly throughout the surfing community that tickets sold out within two hours.

Aims and Objectives

The main aim of this dissertation is to ascertain whether surfing has historically had a beneficial effect on the Cornish economy, or a detrimental one, and whether it is likely to help or hinder the region’s economy in the future. In order to fulfill this aim, several hypotheses will be tested:

  • As Cornwall’s traditional industries have declined, and jobs have been lost, these jobs have been primarily replaced with unskilled jobs in the surfing industry.
  • The growth of the tourist industry, above other industries, has lead to inadequate investment in transport and other infrastructure.
  • The desirability of Cornwall as a surfing location has meant it has failed to attract government funding, and other types of investment, for its industries.
  • If Cornwall didn’t have so many tourists overusing its infrastructure, it would have attracted more industrial development.
  • The surfing communities in Cornwall can be useful marketing methods for some industries.

Hypotheses one to four are all supporting the view that surfing has been detrimental to the overall Cornish economy, biasing it in favour of surfing and other forms of tourism, and thereby making it less desirable to more stable and skilled industries. Hypothesis five is a counterpoint to this, claiming that the surfing communities can benefit the Cornish economy if it attempts to move to less seasonal, higher quality, tourism in the future.

Methods and Ethics

The primary method of assessing hypothesis one will be to assess population and employment demographics, looking at the employment trends over the last fifty years, and also at the destination of students who are either Cornish residents, or who graduated the University of Cornwall. Hypotheses two to four can be assessed by comparing Cornwall with similar locations in the South West, which have attracted industry and infrastructure investment, for example the ‘M4 corridor’, and looking at the reasons for these investments. Finally, hypothesis five can be tested by looking at the primary marketing methods for industries such as the music and film industries, and their marketing patterns in Cornwall and other locations.


  • Billings, C. (2005) Untitled. Campaign (UK); Issue 30, p. 7.
  • Economist, (2000) California dreaming. Vol. 356, Issue 8182, p. 54.
  • Marketing Week (UK), (2003) Untitled. Vol. 26, Issue 24, p. 12.
  • Meadwell, S. (2002) Victim of its own success. Estates Gazette; Issue 235, p. 58.

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