Capital sizzles in summer as visitors numbers soar

Street performers entertain the crowds on the Mound
Street performers entertain the crowds on the Mound
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the number of people visiting the Capital during the main summer festival season has soared ahead of last year, new figures have revealed.

The total number of people in the city centre was 8.7 per cent higher than last year during the Edinburgh International Festival and the Fringe in August.

And Edinburgh’s most popular tourist attraction also enjoyed a bumper month – with visitor numbers at Edinburgh Castle rising eight per cent above last August, to 190,266.

But the footfall figures, collated from a network of counters operated by the city council, indicate that the Festival’s “drift” to the south of the city, partly caused by the closure for refurbishment of the Assembly Rooms in George Street, has resulted in a big decline in the amount of people visiting two traditional festival ‘hubs’.

Both George Street and the Royal Mile have seen visitor numbers tumble by around one third compared with last year.

Councillor Tom Buchanan, the city’s economic development leader, said: “Footfall in the city centre inevitably varies as a result of different factors and it may be our unseasonable summer has had an impact.

“Despite that, we know that this year’s festivals have been a great success. There are also other signs that the city’s economy has remained strong throughout the recession, plus we’re still attracting both visitors and investment.”

The footfall counter outside Marks & Spencer in Princes Street recorded 1.79 million pedestrians in the five weeks to September 4, which was 2.5 per cent ahead of last year.

But there was a 29.4 per cent decline, to 786,663, in the High Street outside Bella Italia, where many of the free street performances take place.

George Street – which traditionally benefits from the influx of around 300,000 people – saw footfall slump by 36 per cent this year at the counter outside The Dome.

During the five-week spell, 304,646 pedestrians passed the counter, compared with 475,686 last year.

William Burdett-Coutts, artistic director of Assembly Theatre, which was forced to relocate its main hub to George Square Gardens, said: “My flat is in Frederick Street and I hang around a group of restaurants in that area and they all suffered this year. It was bound to have an impact because people do not get the pre-show or post-show business.”

Audience numbers for Assembly Theatre increased by 0.5 per cent despite its move, with 299,500 people attending its shows.

Figures from the Fringe show that ticket sales increased by 2.6 per cent this year, but the International Festival suffered a 3.3 per cent decline.

The Edinburgh Hotels Association said most hotels saw little difference to last year.

Chairman Colin Paton, also chief executive of the Portland Hotels group, which includes the Edinburgh Capital and Edinburgh City hotels, said: “August was fine in terms of sales, at plus or minus three per cent for most.

“It was a good month, but nobody is punching the air.”

mblackley@edinburghnews.com

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