SHOPPERS have rekindled their love of Edinburgh after years of ill-fated tram works, with a huge leap in the number of residents now expressing pride in the city centre.
Almost 90 per cent said they were proud of the Capital’s central area, according to a survey carried out earlier this month – a rise of more than a third on last year.
And an influx of new shoppers has seen footfall grow faster than the rest of the UK, with visitor numbers over November and December up by 1.5 per cent on the same period in 2013.
The figures – released by marketing campaign This is Edinburgh – are among a host of others that indicate the city centre is making an economic comeback after years of being marred by tram works.
That has provided shops with a welcome cash boost, with retail spending in the Capital during the last 12 months up by 3.5 per cent – more than three per cent higher than elsewhere in Britain.
Around 95 per cent of those surveyed now feel more positive about the shopping hub than they did at the start of 2014. And almost 15.5 million people visited Princes Street from November 2013 to December 2014 – a rise of 400,000 on the previous year.
This is Edinburgh – led by Marketing Edinburgh, the council and Essential Edinburgh – is a £1 million, two-year campaign launched at the end of February 2014 in an attempt to attract residents back to the city centre in the wake of tram disruption.
Bosses behind the project insist the drive will boost city coffers by more than £50m, stimulating the economy and encouraging visitors to flock back to the high street and part with their cash.
Andy Neal, chief executive of Essential Edinburgh, hailed the growth as a “great achievement” for the city.
He said: “This is Edinburgh has not only created new events for locals, but given city centre businesses the opportunity to work collectively together on a much bigger scale than ever before.”
Of the 500 residents surveyed by This is Edinburgh at key locations around the Capital, 66.8 per cent said they were now more likely to come into the city centre than they were at the start of last year.
Meanwhile, footfall figures show the Christmas attractions enjoyed a bumper season, with a 4.2 per cent rise in people visiting the city centre compared with 2014 over the course of December – and a leap of almost a fifth in St Andrew Square as punters packed into the new festive market and ice rink.
The stats are similar to those logged in other UK cities. Manchester – where a similar drive is currently under way to boost city shopping – saw 4.5 per cent growth in December compared with the previous year.
Councillor Frank Ross, the city’s economy leader, insisted the statistics demonstrated This is Edinburgh’s campaign was proving successful – but warned against becoming complacent.
He said: “I’m particularly delighted with the positive increase in the number of people who are proud of Edinburgh’s city centre.
“To go up in 12 months from 51 per cent to 88 per cent shows that our aim of getting people living in and around Edinburgh to rediscover the magic of our city is working and that the campaign really is making a difference.
“We have so much to be proud of, so we shouldn’t be shy of showcasing everything we have to offer. However, it’s important the council and its partners don’t rest on our laurels.”
Gordon Drummond, director of Harvey Nichols, said the campaign was allowing businesses to put the tram works behind them.
He said: “The extended tram and roadwork disruption had caused people to change their shopping habits, perhaps choosing to visit retail parks or other cities and towns instead of Edinburgh’s city centre. The campaign commenced at a crucial time, promoting the shopping and leisure offering and giving people lots of reasons to rediscover their city.”
And Louise Maclean, sales manager at The Huxley, Kyloe and The Rutland Hotel, said the timing of This is Edinburgh’s launch in early 2014 was “spot on”. She added: “The campaign coincided with the end of the city’s debilitating tram works and both events made a significant difference to footfall – not only for The Huxley and Kyloe, but the whole West End.”
This is Edinburgh’s drive to promote the city centre includes a calendar of events throughout the year and is designed to keep pulling visitors on to the high street outwith the Capital’s busier months.
And this year will see the launch of a new fashion event in March, set to join May’s Spa in the City, June’s Film in the City and the Edinburgh Restaurant Festival in October. This is Edinburgh came on the back of Marketing Edinburgh’s failed attempt to sell the Capital to tourists in 2012 as “Incredinburgh”.
The marketing pitch – which included slogans such as “paint the town redinburgh” and “shop here insteadinburgh” – was widely ridiculed and led to the resignation of the arms-length company’s boss.
But John Donnelly, chief executive of Marketing Edinburgh, insisted the old campaign was “dead and gone” and said the current scheme offered a “fresh approach” with the real city at the heart of it.
He said: “We were tasked to come up with a strong and dynamic campaign that would speak directly to the people who live in and around the city. It needed to deliver results – which is exactly what it’s doing. However, not only is it a celebration of this amazing city, it’s also a campaign focused on giving people compelling reasons to make the trip to the city centre.
“We are one year into the two-year campaign which has been jam-packed – new website, TV adverts, film and spa events and a new restaurant festival. The next phase promises to be no different, with 2015’s activity kicking off with an exciting new event in March, which will be announced soon.
“It’s rewarding to see such a dramatic rise in the number of residents saying how proud they are of their city and know we’ve helped play a part in that.”
By Prof Leigh Sparks, Retail expert at Stirling University
THIS sounds like good news on the face of it.
Clearly Edinburgh has a lot of attractions and Scotland as a whole has had a load of attention this year from a range of different things and that will have helped Edinburgh.
The events and attractions of this year will factor into footfall figures.
So in that sense it’s good news and it doesn’t really surprise me.
But it would be interesting to know where these new visitors are coming from, and whether there has been a switch regarding where people are travelling into the city centre from.
There’s a little bit of the fact that we’re coming out of the recession to these figures, but I wouldn’t overstate that too much at the moment.
And comparisons with the year before in Edinburgh are always difficult, as the trams made such a mess of things for such a long time.
But Edinburgh is a world-class city, so this rise isn’t much of a surprise.
There’s a lot of goodwill for Scotland generally from elsewhere in the UK and around the world.
It’s still a tough situation in retail.
Throughout the UK it’s a struggle – there are winners and losers at the moment, as usual.
But there comes a point when people become fed up of being caught in a recession and they will
go out and spend.
So we will come out of the recession from that point of view, but there will still be shocks to the system that will cause problems.
There are a lot more government cuts to come.
It’s still very nervous times right now, at least for a little while yet.