Christmas ticket prices stay high after £180k loss

Edinburgh's Christmas festivities. Picture: Phil Wilkinson
Edinburgh's Christmas festivities. Picture: Phil Wilkinson
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TICKET prices for Edinburgh’s Christmas are set to remain the same despite public anger over high costs at last year’s festivities, the Evening News can reveal.

A swathe of family discounts are expected to be introduced to appease concerns that the flagship winter festival is not value for money.

It has also emerged the 2013 event saddled organisers Underbelly and Unique Events – which hold the contract to deliver winter celebrations until 2015-16 – with a loss understood to be around £180,000.

City business chiefs insist they were “relaxed” at news of the loss, adding that it was normal for “upfront” venue and equipment costs to affect year one balance sheets.

A spokesman for Edinburgh’s Christmas said: “There was a loss made but it’s not a figure we can confirm as it’s commercially confidential.

“The satisfaction levels are extremely encouraging and positive but there’s obviously a drop when it comes to value and when families talk about value, and the plan is that we will address that in this year’s programme. There will be more that’s affordable for families and residents.”

Details of the financial hit came as festival chiefs unveiled the costs and popularity of last year’s bonanza – and the economic value for the city.

The Evening News previously laid bare widespread complaints about high ticket prices following the month-long event.

A new drive to ensure affordability comes after we revealed in December how event organisers had come under fire over the cost of tickets for city families.

The price of a five-minute ride on the St Andrew Square Star Flyer – which sparked terror when the back section of a seat suddenly fell away in mid-December – was set at £7.50, while residents were asked to shell out £8.50 for ice skating.

This was compounded when Mike Daviot, 55, resigned from his job as Santa in the East Princes Street Gardens grotto after being forced to cram in 30 families an hour.

But organisers said survey figures demonstrated Edinburgh’s Christmas huge draw – with nearly 390,000 tickets sold and city centre footfall jumping 7.6 per cent on the same period in 2012.

They highlighted the 95 per cent approval rating of visitors with children as evidence of the success. But when it came to cost, only 60 per cent of visitors with children believed the festival offered value for money.

Organisers insisted they were making good progress in their efforts to tackle concern over prices.

The Edinburgh’s Christmas spokesman said: “This is the first time that anyone has gone into this level of detail on Edinburgh’s Christmas and what this shows is that, in the organisation of Edinburgh’s Christmas, there’s a lot more that we’re getting right. I should add that the loss is borne by Underbelly – there is no loss to the council or the council tax payer.”

Leaders at Essential Edinburgh – which represents 600 city centre businesses and ran Christmas events at St Andrew Square – hailed the polls “fantastic” and said it was a strong platform to build on.

Chief executive Andy Neal said: “A loss in the first year of operation would be totally expected. Upfront costs – for those things that you buy and then use [over the period of the contract] – are usually allocated to the first year.

“So making a loss in the first year is totally expected and there’s no issue with that. At the moment, I’m not sitting here concerned. What I’m looking for is to build on a very positive platform which has been established.”

Addressing residents’ anger at perceived over-pricing, Mr Neal said a new plan of action was being devised to offer discounts next year.

“Any good organisation should be looking to see what worked and what did not, and I think the fact that they have gone to this level of understanding of how things were is a very good sign,” he added.

“On the issues that have been raised about value for money, I think that what we should be doing is looking at the plan for this Christmas and building those in and I know for a fact that they’re being built into proposals for this year.

“Among the highlights for us were Light Night and moving that from Thursday late-night opening to Sunday afternoon, and we had, I think, 26,000 people come along to the lights at the Assembly Rooms. It was fantastic and it’s that sort of change that we’re looking to build on.”

He confirmed Essential Edinburgh was involved in the early stages of planning for this year’s events in St Andrew Square.

Crime and complaints down to a ‘remarkable low’

THE re-imagined Edinburgh’s Christmas was one of the safest ever, police have said, with increased security and a new layout helping to cut levels of crime during the event.

Police Scotland said the success of the site operation had led to crime levels being low at St Andrew Square, while crime in Princes Street Gardens area halved on the previous year, a fact that was considered “particularly noteworthy” as the event was held for an extra week.

In the report on the event, Police Scotland were quoted as saying “crime and complaints were at a remarkable low level”. And there were no reported matters relating to licensing or alcohol disorder offences within either of the Christmas arenas over the course of the event.

Organisers were also pleased with the response from other businesses and residents in the area, reporting that no complaints were received apart from one issue relating to waste collection in St Andrew Square.