if Martin Wishart and Edinburgh Castle are the glamorous side of our tourism industry, then business conferences are the opposite end of the spectrum.
No-one will burst through their front door tonight crying, “guess what, I went to the International Tax and Accountancy Conference today”. Unlike the tourist traps on Princes Street and the Royal Mile, there is nothing exciting about business tourism.
And it is to all intents and purposes invisible. Walking along the streets near the Edinburgh International Conference Centre, for instance, there is a fair chance of passing through crowds of conference delegates, but you’re unlikely to notice.
That all goes to explain why you rarely hear people talking about the importance of conferences to the Capital, but it is an increasingly important strand of our economy.
More than 55,000 conference delegates visited the city over the last year, generating an estimated £84.4 million for the local economy – £10m more than the previous year. That is not just bookings at the EICC and other venues, but includes spending by these visitors in restaurants, bars, taxis, gift shops, and so on. And the benefits to Edinburgh from these gatherings of national and international business people do not end there.
How many of these delegates spend a free hour or two visiting some of our top attractions and getting a great sense of what it would be like to holiday in Edinburgh? If they enjoy it, they probably go back and tell their family and friends, who might come here next summer. There is always the opportunity of creating this kind of “virtuous circle” when affluent visitors come to the city.
That is why the recent £30m investment in the EICC promises to be such a boon for the Capital. Business tourism may not fire the imagination like our fantastic museums and galleries, but its worth its weight in gold to Edinburgh.