The starting pistol has been fired on winter festivals this year with work well under way in Princes Street Gardens and at St Andrew Square, as well as the official launch of Edinburgh’s Hogmanay yesterday.
This year’s events look bigger and better than ever. And, of course, this year the council and the organisers of Edinburgh’s Christmas have negotiated very welcome discounts for residents in response to issues raised in this very paper.
Edinburgh’s Hogmanay launch is another stunning programme of events that include the atmospheric torchlight procession, the community-based Loony Dook, the world-famous Street Party and Lily Allen in concert in the gardens. There is literally something for everyone as the winter festivals improve and grow each year to rival the impact of their larger and older summer cousins.
It’s my favourite time of year in the city and it shows it off to stunning effect. There’s nowhere as jaw-droppingly stunning as Princes Street bedecked with more than 500,000 lights, and the magnificent juxtaposition of the Edinburgh Wheel and Scott Monument is now a staple image for Christmas cards. The street party provides images of the Capital and people enjoying themselves that are broadcast around the world.
It’s always great to be from Edinburgh, but during the great setpiece events of the festivals the city is like nowhere on earth. And that success wins accolades with dozens of awards won for Edinburgh every year.
Which brings me to one of my pet hates. One of the things that can create a louder whine than a 737 on the Tarmac at the airport is the moan from those who complain about the times when the city welcomes the world and fills with tourists. ‘Why does the council do all these things for the tourists?’ goes the cry.
This is usually accompanied by a moan about the amount spent and is often deliberately said to imply that somehow the council cares more about tourists than people who live here – it doesn’t.
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It’s an appalling view and whilst it doesn’t get raised nearly as often as it used to, it still comes up from time to time. Often it’s accompanied by moans about how the bus is delayed during the Festival because of tourists getting on and not knowing where they’re going or what the fare is.
In fact, no less than 30,000 jobs in the Edinburgh area are dependent on tourism. Try imagining what kind of city Edinburgh would be with 30,000 fewer jobs – the moaners don’t and they should.
In direct terms, every hotel directly employs an average of 22 staff, all earning wages and a recent study found that the average salary for a hotel manager is around £64,000. Tourism pounds also support pubs, restaurants and much more.
The Capital has the highest number of restaurants per head of any European city, and that gives us residents access to some of the best dining there is, in large measure because of tourists.
The same applies to shops. Visitor spending is more than £1 billion every year and growing. Our shopping may not be perfect yet, but take away the visitor spends and we’d have much more tumbleweed in our city centre and on our high streets.
In addition, tourism buzzes with entrepreneurs – Edinburgh’s Christmas and Edinburgh’s Hogmanay programmes are run by some of the most enterprising people you are ever likely to meet – anywhere.
Tourists even help the Capital run many more theatres than a city of 500,000 would otherwise have. In short, tourists provide a huge boost to our economy and the cultural life of the Capital, provide jobs and opportunities that otherwise wouldn’t be there for Edinburgh people planning jobs and families and they contribute to raising the quality of life of residents of every part of the city.
Even the moan about the bus is bogus as tourists help boost the income of the bus company, so we have more routes and services because of the benefits of being a tourism destination.
So if you do happen to hear a local “Grinch” complaining about the festivities – and thankfully I do think there are fewer of them than there used to be – just remember that if the moaners got their way, the city would be much the poorer for it. We’d have fewer and a poorer choice of restaurants, pubs, clubs, theatres, buses et al! Indeed, because incoming tourists contribute so much to the airport, residents get choicer and cheaper holidays when it’s our turn to be a tourist.
Tourism is good for residents and long may we continue to be one of the world’s finest destinations. Worth celebrating with a glass of Gluhwein perhaps, as soon as the Christmas Market opens. I’ll drink to that.
• Favourite UK City: Guardian Observer Award has been won by Edinburgh an amazing 13 times in 14 years.
• Best UK City: Conde Nast Award won three times in recent years by Edinburgh, which was also ranked the friendliest city in the UK recently
• Voted second most family friendly city by Trip Advisor.