A TOURISM boom is heading the Capital’s way after it took centre stage amid global coverage of the independence referendum.
Marketing chiefs believe a dedicated media centre at the Grassmarket’s Apex hotel – chosen specifically to showcase Edinburgh Castle and other iconic cityscapes – will lead to a surge in visitors from the UK and overseas.
Efforts are also under way to ensure the Capital enjoys another bonanza year in conference and business tourism, with a target set for raising 2013’s record-breaking £90.1 million take to £92.5m.
That confidence has been echoed by business leaders, who said the removal of short-term uncertainty in the wake of last week’s decisive No vote would unlock a wave of investment which had stalled over concern Scots were about to back a split from Britain.
The referendum saw the Capital come under unprecedented scrutiny, as 300 journalists from as far afield as Turkey, India and Taiwan registered for access to the media centre.
There were also more than 800 accredited press at the Ingliston count – many staying in local hotels and B&Bs – with 16 international broadcasters including Fox, CNN and CBS beaming views of Calton Hill to millions around the world.
Pouring cold water on reports that potential visitors from England – Scotland’s largest tourism market – had been put off by a referendum campaign which at times appeared angry and volatile, bosses at Marketing Edinburgh today said travellers would flock to the Capital.
The city currently receives around 3.75m visitors annually, of which 2.3m are from the other regions and nations of the UK.
John Donnelly, chief executive of Marketing Edinburgh, said: “Our media centre was about showcasing the city – the location at the Apex International was chosen because of the dramatic backdrop of Edinburgh Castle.
“There’s a stat used by Visit Britain which says that if someone puts a city or a location on a piece of film and it is seen by someone, that person is 40 per cent more likely to visit.
“What we are doing at the moment is running some numbers in terms of eyeballs on that particular backdrop. Those haven’t come out yet [but] the one thing we can say with certainty is that [the referendum] has been very good for the city.”
Leading hoteliers have also welcomed the city’s heightened media profile and said it would translate into bumper revenues over the coming months.
Tristan Nesbitt, of the Sheraton Grand Hotel & Spa, said: “Edinburgh will always be a popular destination that welcomes visitors from around the world thanks to its diverse tourism offering and rich heritage and culture.
“This month is proving to be extremely busy for the Sheraton as a result of strong conference and group business, as well as the Ryder Cup that takes place this week.
“As always during a busy period, this has been a great opportunity to showcase the very best of what our city has to offer.”
Property bosses agreed the city was in line for a boost following the referendum result, which they said would inject “confidence, optimism and stability”.
But amid uncertainty over new powers set to be devolved to the Scottish Parliament, they called on politicians to provide detail on future constitutional change as quickly as possible.
Andrew Rettie, head of agency for Strutt & Parker in Scotland, said: “We all hope this will be a shot in the arm for the Scottish housing market and that the momentum seen earlier in the year returns to the sector.
“Buyers and sellers who have stalled in recent months while waiting to see how the referendum plays out can now move forward with relative certainty about what lies ahead.
“In helping this process, we appeal to the Westminster government for urgent clarity on the tax-raising and legislative powers which will be devolved to Holyrood so that vendors and purchasers can plan accordingly.”
Renewed optimism over prospects for Edinburgh’s tourism and business sectors was bolstered after it emerged housebuilder Miller Group – which is headquartered in the Capital and last year sold around 500 homes across Scotland – was among a group of firms preparing to list on the London Stock Exchange. The company is expected to float with a valuation of up to £500m.
Business experts said the margin of victory in last week’s referendum had encouraged investors to loosen the purse-strings.
Graham Birse, director of the Edinburgh Institute of Leadership and Management Practice, said: “I can’t give you any specific examples, but what I do know from speaking to individuals in the commercial property sector is that a number of commercial developments in the city were on hold pending the referendum results, and that simply affirms the uncertainty that we were all aware of surrounding the potential of the vote to go Yes.
“Now I’m not saying necessarily that a vote for No was better for business, more so than a vote for Yes, but I think what I’m saying is that a decisive outcome is good for the business environment in the short term because it provides stability.
“Certainly, as I’ve said, a number of commercial property deals in the city will probably now go ahead that might not otherwise have done because the main funders – the London-based commercial property firms – were just waiting to see and were anxious about the outcome.”
Community leaders in the Capital stressed the feel-good factor was not limited to the business sector.
Robert Pearson, of Tenants and Residents in Muirhouse, said: “I think [the referendum has] shown again that the community’s come together regardless of what they were voting, so hopefully they will continue to support one another after the vote.
“Win or lose, the community has really benefited from the referendum, in that we’ve got a lot of people speaking with each other that wouldn’t normally, which has been quite good.
“It’s helped with people’s confidence, showing them they can be confident to state their opinion regardless of whether people agree with you or not.
“It got the residents into some open topical discussion in the last few weeks, the likes of which we’ve never seen before. I think people should feel positive for what’s been achieved by our community.”
He added: “The fact that it’s the biggest turnout in Muirhouse for any kind of vote shows it’s quite clear that people are all willing to come out and have their voice heard and their opinion stated, so it’s really important that residents continue to do that, and continue to show they can make a difference in their own community as well.”
City council leader Andrew Burns said: “The media attention on Scotland, and on Edinburgh in particular, has been unparalleled. Working with partners, we set up a media centre, from which images of Edinburgh Castle and the historic Old Town were beamed to millions of viewers from all over the world. We also enabled numerous international broadcasters to broadcast from Calton Hill, giving great views of the city. I am delighted that, as ever, our city shone.
“I would also like to thank the Apex for their generous support in making this opportunity possible.”
No delivers a boost for home-owners and landlords
By David Alexander
IN a purely non-political sense, the referendum result on Thursday was the better of the two possible outcomes for home-owners and landlords in Edinburgh.
While a Yes majority would not have spelled disaster, the long period of uncertainty as the Holyrood and Westminster governments negotiated over independence would certainly have dampened housing activity both in the new-build and second-hand markets.
To a large extent, of course, the “local” Edinburgh market is not subject to wider political and economic pressure. Ours is an affluent city with a talented workforce in which couples have babies, families outgrow existing accommodation and many older people seek somewhere more manageable. This is all conducive to moving house so to that extent, therefore, things carry on much as before, whatever the constitutional arrangements.
Having said that, the confidence which normally characterises the Edinburgh market has been absent in recent months as the enormity of the decision to be taken on September 18 gradually dawned on businesses and the general public.
What spooks markets in general is uncertainty which is why, with Scotland’s future much clearer than a few days ago, folks who had been putting off a house move are likely to dust down their plans. The result is that Scotland, and particularly Edinburgh, could see an autumn surge in sales activity, especially if the season is blessed with clement weather.
The outcome also means companies who may have downsized or left altogether will now stay and investment decisions put on hold will go ahead. This will safeguard jobs and lead to new jobs, including executive ones, which will benefit the top end of the market but the positive effect is likely to ripple out across the entire housing spectrum.
By contrast, the rental market seemed to be immune to any concerns about the referendum result although, eerily, the first two weeks of September were among the quietest – in terms of tenant demand – my firm has experienced in years.
However ,while political uncertainty – that past fortnight excepted – did not dampen tenant confidence, developers planning new private rented housing were most certainly expressing concern, especially about the tax position in an independent Scotland which was one of the campaign’s “great unknowns”. Now that the future corporate tax position is much clearer, delayed plans are likely to go ahead.
It was often claimed that the Edinburgh property market would be one of the main beneficiaries of independence, partly because of the influx of foreign diplomatic personnel. That may well have been true in the long run but given the uncertainty of what type of independent Scotland would emerge, and the uncertainty prior, the market clearly believed this was a gamble too far.
• David Alexander is managing director of the estate and letting agency DJ Alexander
Edinburgh must be ready to play its part in ‘new UK’
By Donald Anderson
SO it’s over. The longest and – at times – the most heated political debate in Scotland has resulted in an emphatic vote to stay in the UK. A vote endorsed by people living in and around Edinburgh.
There will be a lot of downhearted Yes campaigners, but I hope they don’t stay downhearted for long. Edinburgh and Scotland has benefited from a strong and effective Scottish Government and from a strong ‘Capital Coalition’ here in Edinburgh.
Only in June the Evening News reported that Edinburgh residents were the “happiest in the UK”, and that we were “healthier, wealthier and better educated” than citizens of other UK cities. But despite that, the task of creating new jobs and opportunities for our young people remains central to making Edinburgh even better and stronger.
I’m sure the SNP will be quickly back to work and to making a difference. Whilst constitutional issues between Westminster and Holyrood may dominate the headlines in the coming weeks and months, Edinburgh must make sure that it steps forward itself to play a role in creating a more diverse and vibrant economy for Scotland and for the whole of the “new UK” that needs to be created.
To do that, some hard questions need to be asked. Firstly, in addition to new powers for Holyrood, we need to have a look at the powers already devolved to London.
If we are to change the forces that are pulling wealth and opportunity towards London, we should be asking for more of the powers given when devolution created the London Mayor in the year 2000. Why should a London Mayor have powers denied the city council in Edinburgh? And how does funding compare? There is already a debate raging in English cities about additional powers, and Edinburgh must ensure it sets out its stall supporting and expanding that cities agenda.
More than that, the city can present the case for more funding and again raise the issue of delivering high-speed rail to Scotland. There could be no more fitting way to demonstrate the benefits of working together than by helping improve the links between Edinburgh and Glasgow with the rest of the UK. If the UK Government does want to shake up the economic geography of the UK, then it could start by setting out a clear vision for taking HSR to Scotland.
But there’s more. Just before the referendum, Glasgow secured an additional £1.1 billion of capital funding from the UK government. Glasgow I am sure deserves every penny, but Edinburgh has needs as well.
A city fund for Edinburgh, perhaps as part of a UK-wide city funding strategy, could really transform the UK allowing more wealth and opportunity to flow north. Edinburgh has long held aspirations to replace Meadowbank Stadium with genuine world-class facilities, and the city’s ambition for a new music arena has yet to be realised. Even a small proportion of the funding that Glasgow secured could help Edinburgh achieve some of these vital strategic projects.
As the negotiations begin on the UK’s future shared relationship, Edinburgh can and should put forward its case for increased powers and resources to make one of the world’s finest cities, even better and stronger.
• Donald Anderson is director of PPS Scotland and a former Labour leader of Edinburgh City Council