Three-quarters of a million visitors have flocked to the city’s new Christmas festival in spite of unrest over high prices for the attractions, food and drink.
More than a third of those visits came in the space of just two days, with 273,000 people taking in the festivities split across The Mound, East Princes Street Gardens and St Andrew Square last Saturday and Sunday. Visitors have spent an estmiated £580,000 over the ten days of the festivities so far.
The spectacle has been credited with attracting more people to the city centre in general, with footfall across the area up 13.2 per cent over the last two weeks of November compared with the previous year.
Business improvement body Essential Edinburgh today praised the early results, saying the crowds were an endorsement for the relaunched Christmas offering. However, anti-poverty groups said the turnout would come at a cost to some families who had shelled out large sums of money on rides and other attractions.
Visitor numbers released by Underbelly, the London-based organisers of the festival, showed a total of 751,000 visitors, including:
• 33,600 people have taken in Edinburgh’s skyline during a ride on the 42 metre-high Big Wheel, specially shipped to Edinburgh from Australia; • 24,500 revellers have braved the £7.50-per-ride 60 metre-high Star Flyer;
• 12,300 passengers have taken a ride on the Santa Train in East Princes Street Gardens – more expensive mile for mile than the Orient Express;
• 9300 skaters have gone for a spin on the relocated ice rink situated next to the Scott Monument;
• 6600 festival-goers have wandered through the Christmas tree maze.
Visitors have spent an estimated £580,000, according to Evening News calculations, based on an even split between adults and child customers, without taking online discounts into account.
City festivals and events champion Steve Cardownie said: “I can understand some people being critical and concerned about the prices, but the evidence when you look at the amount of people attending and going to the shops – there’s been a marked increase and it’s been sustained. They must like what they’re seeing to come back.
A breakdown of costs run by the Evening News just days before the start of the six-week festival showed a typical family of four could expect to spend about £100 to pay for ice skating, a trip on the Big Wheel and a few other activities on offer this Christmas in the city centre.
Food prices have also been labelled steep by many visitors, with a burger and a pint of beer each costing £6.
Willie Black, leader of campaign group North Edinburgh Fights Back, said: “We know when our kids are looking at the latest toys or rides, families find a way (to pay for it). But many families have a good time and then pay for it beyond that and I think that’s the reality.”
Mr Black admitted the festival figures were impressive, but questioned how much of Edinburgh was helped by the economic festive boost.
“Many of the areas on the outside of the city don’t really benefit a great deal from the festival,” he said.Footfall figures for key shopping locations – Princes Street near Marks & Spencer and at the corner of George Street and Frederick Street – have been particularly high from November 18 to December 1.
Essential Edinburgh chief executive Andy Neal said: “The footfall figures for the last two weeks are very encouraging and are an endorsement of both the Christmas attractions and the great shops, bars and restaurants in the city centre. Clearly it is only the start of the season, but some of the trading results, particularly around the switch on Sunday have been very strong for retailers and the hospitality sector.”
The Christmas festival is being run for the first time under a new partnership between Underbelly and Edinburgh firm Unique Events.
Underbelly directors Charlie Wood and Ed Bartlam said in a statement they were “humbled and amazed” by the positive response to the re-imagined festival offering.
“We’re delighted that Edinburgh’s Christmas is appearing to deliver its promise of bringing more people to the city centre and we look forward to continuing the successful celebrations through Edinburgh’s Hogmanay and through to January 5,” the statement said.
‘IT’S NOT WORTH THE MONEY . . IT’S FREEZING UP THERE TOO’
CUSTOMERS paying to go on one of the Christmas festival’s biggest attractions have been split on the value offered by the ride.
The Star Flyer, which carries up to 32 passengers at a time 60m into the air, is running next to St Andrew Square as one of the festival’s main offerings for thrill seekers.
Passengers pay £7.50 each to go on the ride regardless of age, with a strict minimum height of 1m enforced. Comments from those who went on the attraction yesterday included:
Andrew Ross, 20, student, Dalry: “It was quite good and it does let you see Edinburgh, but it’s not worth the money. It’s freezing up at the top as well.”
Karen Stevenson, 31, full-time mum, Bruntsfield: “It was quite scary for me, but my wee boy loved it. The price is quite expensive, but I don’t think it will put too many people off.”
Claire Dawson, 24, student, Cowgate: “It’s really fun. It’s a nice view from the top and it’s something different. I wasn’t put off by the price.”
John Fraser, 19, student, Morningside: “It was OK. It doesn’t last very long for the money that you pay, though.”