Edinburgh’s Christmas draws 500,000 tourists to Capital

The Street of Light - George Street, Edinburgh
The Street of Light - George Street, Edinburgh
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ORGANISERS of the Capital’s festive celebrations have hailed record-breaking numbers for this year’s events.

Total footfall through East Princes Street Gardens and St Andrew Square – the heart of Edinburgh’s Christmas – was up from last year’s 3.8 million to just over four million, according to events company Underbelly.

Edinburgh's Christmas markets. Picture: Jon Savage

Edinburgh's Christmas markets. Picture: Jon Savage

It said the number of unique visitors had increased from 866,930 to 917,000.

And an estimated 60 per cent of the people came from outside Edinburgh and the Lothians – suggesting the Capital welcomed around 500,000 tourists over the period.

Altogether, visitors from 64 countries came to the Capital for the various Edinburgh’s Christmas attractions.

At busy times, queues were introduced as crowds descended on East Princes Street Gardens. And organisers said attractions might have to move into other parts of the city if they were to keep expanding.

This was the fourth year that Underbelly was in charge of running the city’s Christmas programme and the contract for doing the job for the next three years is now up for tender.

Underbelly is among those bidding to win it and it said due to commercial confidentiality it could not release details of ticket sales until after bids close later this month.

However, Charlie Wood, director of Edinburgh’s Christmas, said: “It’s been a real privilege for Underbelly to produce Edinburgh’s Christmas on behalf of the council for the past four years and particularly to see the substantial year on year growth and the positive impact on the residents and businesses of Edinburgh.

“We’ve seen record numbers of people enjoying their visits to Edinburgh’s Christmas and we’re delighted to have welcomed so many visitors from both Edinburgh and around the world.

“Edinburgh in winter is truly world class and once again it’s proved it’s the place to be.”

Underbelly said 130,680 tickets were snapped up by EH postcode residents enjoying the 20 per cent discount on shows, rides and attractions.

Some 8842 Edinburgh schoolchildren skated for free at the St Andrew Square elliptical ice rink thanks to a sponsorship deal with Standard Life.

And 280,874 free tickets were issued for this year’s Street of Light spectacular, which moved to George Street from last year’s debut location in the Royal Mile.

The direct economic benefit to the Capital of the Edinburgh’s Christmas events is expected to exceed the £119m reported in the last survey in 2014.

City council festival and events champion Richard Lewis said: “Our winter festivals are the envy of the world and rightly so. This has been another record-breaking year for Edinburgh, and the huge boost to footfall is good news for city centre businesses and the local economy. There really is no place that can beat Edinburgh at Christmas.”

Roddy Smith, chief executive of Essential Edinburgh, which manages the city centre business improvement district (BID), said the figures reinforced the value of Edinburgh’s festivals.

He said: “Footfall within our BID area during Edinburgh’s Christmas was up by over five per cent, significantly better than the UK’s six week average which decreased by three per cent, and with lots of visitors from outside the city it is all very good news for our retailers, our bars, restaurants and hotels.

“In particular, it is worth noting the impact of the Street of Light on footfall for the west end of the city centre with George Street up over 47 per cent on 2015, helping spread the positivity around the city centre.

“We have seen high levels of hotel occupancy as visitors come to enjoy our winter festivals, boosting trade and helping secure valuable jobs. Most of all, it ensures our wonderful city centre maintains its position as one of the best places to be in the world at a crucial time of year.”

John Donnelly, chief executive of Marketing Edinburgh, also welcomed the figures. He said: “Over the last four years Edinburgh’s Christmas has grown significantly and now well-established as the city’s flagship winter event, comfortably sitting alongside Edinburgh’s Hogmanay celebrations.

“Entertaining millions of people, Edinburgh’s Christmas is a huge draw to both residents and visitors, creating exciting and positive reasons for them to choose to visit, shop and enjoy all Edinburgh’s city centre has to offer.”

ian.swanson@edinburghnews.com