Helen Martin: It’s difficult to escape from this tourist trap

Tourists enjoy the view from Calton Hill. Picture: Toby Williams
Tourists enjoy the view from Calton Hill. Picture: Toby Williams
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THE Edinburgh World Heritage Trust believes the city is being overwhelmed with tourists, and commercial over-exploitation of the city centre is a threat to its “authenticity”.

Judging from readers’ comments online and in the Evening News letters page, Edinburgh residents concur with that, citing everything from a takeover by hotel chains meaning profits go elsewhere, and a plethora of tartan tat, to excessive tourism causing suffering and unpleasant impacts on the lives of locals.

Labour MP Jo Cox was murdered. Picture: PA

Labour MP Jo Cox was murdered. Picture: PA

Needless to say, Marketing Edinburgh and the Edinburgh Tourism Action Group disagree. Well, of course they do. Turkeys don’t vote for Christmas. Their response is to compare Edinburgh’s relatively low tourist ratio of 8:1 with cities such as Barcelona and Venice with 74:1. What they don’t appear to take into account is our Capital’s little and compact centre, something I’ve referred to many times having lived in several UK cities.

Benidorm wouldn’t fit in Portobello, just as our tiny city centre struggles to cope with four million visitors a year.

As for the jobs tourism provides, many are low paid and many are taken up by seasonal European workers rather than locals. A few benefit, but for the majority of Edinburgh residents, tourism brings no reward. In fact, anything spent by the city council on tourism and events to attract visitors is money taken from tax-payers in this time of cutbacks and austerity.

Horrifyingly, Marketing Edinburgh and the city’s Tourism Action Group went on to say “we are by no means near full capacity” for tourist accommodation and that their responsibility was to plan “industry growth”.

As new hotels spring up again and again in our limited space, while affordable housing is nowhere near catching up with need, they are probably right about spare tourist occupancy.

City integrity and responsibility is not all about the commercial “benefits” of tourism to a handful of people and being a go-to holiday location, both of which come way down the list from the welfare, happiness and shared prosperity of its own people.

The Marketing and Tourism response did come up with a helpful plan involving spreading visitors wider across the whole city. But reducing seasonality and creating genuine reasons to visit during quieter months? That’s another idea which will probably alarm residents, removing the remaining, rare gaps in the tourist calendar when their city returns to normal. Their best statement by far was that we need “careful management to ensure that critical balance between tourism, residents and local business remains in harmony”.

Accept that we have reached a generous four million limit for tourism; stop wasting money on blingy, dazzling theme park-type attractions; let our beautiful and graceful city speak for itself, begin to consider the views of the wider public rather than the few who gain from tourism, campaign for meaningful tourist taxes, and yes . . . there is a possibility of creating harmony rather than fury and frustration.

It’s time to listen to the Edinburgh World Heritage Trust, to local people, and to other cities in Europe who are reining back on tourism because they realise it has a destructive downside. In moderation, it works well. But too major a focus on tourism distracts from other business opportunities until we become tragically dependent upon it – the modern “heroin” of city commerce.

Nothing special about abuse of MPs

IN today’s society anyone, from innocent schoolchildren to celebrities, can be subject to bullying, threats and nastiness online. Often that develops off-line into real world harassment, intimidation and name-calling.

Recently, Tory MPs have been subject to abuse, threats, verbal insults and vandalism, including one woman who found someone had peed on her office door and daubed her posters with swastikas. No doubt other parties, including SNP and Labour, have endured the same. Wouldn’t all MPs today, when views are so polarised, know such unpleasantness (excluding of course, physical assault or the murder of Jo Cox) goes with the territory?

Theresa May has now ordered an independent inquiry – but only into abuse and intimidation of MPs and candidates, not “ordinary” folk.

How much will that cost the public, many of whom have also been targeted but have no recourse to an inquiry chaired by an aristocrat?

What will it achieve – extra protection for MPs or greater penalties for those who harass them, while everyone else just has to put up with it?

How special do they think they are?

A recipe for disaster in our pension pots

OVER one million people so far have taken advantage of George Osborne’s “pension freedom” allowing folk of 55 or over to cash in their entire pension savings and do with it as they like. As suspected from the start, it’s backfired.

Only a few went on a spending spree, some accessed only part of their pot but 53 per cent took the whole lot, often investing it without correct advice in the wrong plans which will pay out well below what they could have earned.

The finance sector is complex, sales-driven and has been proved “crooked” in the past.

This unguided “freedom” is tantamount to giving the man in the street a rope with which to hang himself.

Blunders cast a spell over me

MY local Post Office bears a sign with a picture of pens, paper and notebooks labelled “Stationary”. My roll of clingfilm packaging told me to “tare off” the cardboard strip. Spelings’ gon doun the toylet!