Frank Ross: Next chapter in tourism success story

Tourism is worth more than �1bn to Edinburgh already. Picture: Neil Hanna
Tourism is worth more than �1bn to Edinburgh already. Picture: Neil Hanna
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Edinburgh, and indeed the whole nation, is in for a bumper tourist season with the Commonwealth Games, the Homecoming, the Ryder Cup and the independence referendum all being held in Scotland this year. And the tram will be running in Edinburgh for the first time since 1956 as part of an integrated public transport offer through Transport for Edinburgh.

Tourism already generates more than £1 billion for Edinburgh’s economy, a third of the sector’s total worth to Scotland, and attracts nearly four million visitors from over 70 countries. It supports 35,000 jobs and is a key factor in Edinburgh being the most prosperous UK city outside London.

Today, my message to leaders of the tourism sector, gathering at The Edinburgh Tourism Action Group (ETAG) annual conference, is that we all have to work together to attract investment in all sectors of the economy to ensure we keep building on this success.

Investment in infrastructure and particularly retail infrastructure is essential to this strategy. It is encouraging to see that visitors using our major transport hubs will find that they are now far more user-friendly. As well as having the tram running from May this year, the bus and railway stations have all undergone major refurbishments as has Edinburgh Airport, which is attracting more passengers than ever following its £15 million investment in new flight routes.

Last year, hotel occupancy in the peak month of August reached 93 per cent – far ahead of other major European tourist destinations including London, Paris and Rome. Edinburgh is the key driver of the Scottish visitor economy, attracting 1.26 million visitors from overseas in 2012 – 57 per cent of all overseas visits to Scotland. However, levels of visitor expenditure in Edinburgh are modest, with visitors to the city spending the UK average of £81 per day.

To increase this spend in the city and keep up with this demand I am focused on trying to attract more top- quality hotel developments and top retail brands to Edinburgh. We are looking to attract new brands to Scotland, including retail concepts that are not already here. This will be a focus in the coming year.

Tourism not only has a direct positive impact on the rest of the city via visitor spend, but it also plays a key role in promoting Edinburgh on the international stage, attracting significant levels of foreign direct investment. Among the ten largest cities in the UK, Edinburgh ranks second for foreign direct investment projects.

The quality of our visitor attractions and cultural venues is also vital to the sector’s continued success. In recent years we have seen substantial investment in projects such as the refurbishment of the Usher Hall, the new Tattoo stands, the Assembly Rooms and the National Museum of Scotland, and of course the Edinburgh International Conference Centre, where the ETAG conference is being held today.

As a council we are committed to continuing our support for the sector with projects such as the Atria extension of the EICC and our continuedsupport in Marketing Edinburgh. It is testament to the EICC that Edinburgh was one of only two UK cities to make the top 50 in the latest International Congress and Convention Association league table.

Moving forward, it is essential that all sectors in the city continue to work together to ensure that we keep Edinburgh on an international stage. We need to offer visitors the right flights, shops and brands, business and conference facilities, visitor attractions and cultural venues to keep the sector growing at the rate it is today.

• Frank Ross is convener of the economy committee at Edinburgh City Council