Capital's visitor numbers compared with Europe's other major destinations
TOURISTS in Venice are to be given separate walking lanes from locals in the city, Amsterdam has banned coaches and new tourist shops from its historic centre and some Greek islands have capped the number of cruise ship passengers who can visit.
Meanwhile residents in favourite European holiday destinations, including Malaga, Barcelona and Lisbon, have set up pressure groups to protest at what they describe as tourism saturation.
Last summer islanders on Skye complained their single-track roads were being choked with camper vans and tour buses.
And here in Edinburgh questions were asked about the Capital’s capacity to cope with the growing pressure of visitors as the number of passengers at Waverley station reportedly soared from a daily 70,000 to 340,000 over the first weekend of the Festival.
But is the city really suffering from too many tourists?
The Castle announced in January it was introducing timed slots for visits after admitting it was overwhelmed at peak times.
Crowd control measures have also been introduced at the Scott Monument, with guided tours and a cap on numbers.
Heritage groups have highlighted the negative impacts of “overtourism” on the fabric of the city.
And the Old Town Community Council produced a dossier setting out the problems faced by those living in the heart of tourist Edinburgh – from too many tour buses and badly-parked coaches to overflowing rubbish bins and advertising boards obstructing the pavements.
They argue many of the problems could be solved just by enforcing traffic regulations, by-laws and licence terms as they stand.
Community council spokesman Bill Cowan says: “Edinburgh has always been a tourist city – we’re not complaining about that, we’re not even complaining about the quantity of tourists, we are saying it is uncontrolled and unregulated.
“We are allowing our World Heritage Site to be devalued and depopulated – people are moving out because they can’t stand it.”
But tourism is a vital part of the Edinburgh economy, with 4.1 million visitors a year spending £1.5 billion and keeping 34,800 people in a job.
And Robin Worsnop of the Edinburgh Tourism Action Group, the umbrella organisation for the Capital’s tourism sector, says we should celebrate the fact so many people from around the world want to visit.
He insists tourist numbers in Edinburgh are nowhere near the scale experienced in places like Barcelona, where anger has reached such a level that one protest message read: “Why call it tourist season if we can’t shoot them?”
“The comparison with Barcelona and other places is unfounded,” says Mr Worsnop. “There are times when the city is very busy in certain parts, but often there are a lot of locals using the city. To pinpoint visitors as the issue is foolhardy.
“The city has a thriving tourism sector which is providing many sustainable jobs and wealth for the city. The fact people want to come and enjoy our city is something we should be proud of. To suggest this is a major problem is wrong.
“On the whole the city is far from overly busy. Out of the city centre, it’s still this wonderful, tranquil place with lots of parks and good communities.”
Terry Levinthal of heritage watchdog the Cockburn Association agrees tourism is good for Edinburgh, but says there should be more of a balance.
“In some world heritage sites in other parts of the world they are actually banning tourists because the impact is so severe.
“There is no question that Edinburgh has become significantly busier during the tourist season and that the tourist season has expanded significantly.
“We are one of the world’s most beautiful cities, why wouldn’t you want to share that? But the balance between residents’ and tourists’ needs is not as finely tuned as it could be.”
And he argues the comparison between the impact of tourism on Edinburgh and some other cities is not too far fetched.
“Edinburgh has a population of 500,000 and we have four million visitors – so for every resident there are eight visitors.
“But the majority of the time the visitors are concentrated within the World Heritage Site boundary, which has a population of about 28,000 – so the ratio goes up from 1:8 to about 1:140.
“The density of tourists in such a constrained area does impact on infrastructure – clean streets, toilets, all things that are essential not only for visitors but people living here as well.
“There can just be a feeling of being overwhelmed. Where we don’t want to find ourselves is when residents begin to resent people coming to visit the city.”
Across the world, tourism is in a period of unprecedented growth, with the number of people crossing borders for leisure nearly doubling from 674 million in 2000 to 1.2 billion in 2016.
But John Donnelly, chief executive of Marketing Edinburgh, is clear. “Edinburgh does not suffer from overtourism. Edinburgh is very busy for one month of the year. If you look at it, from October to March outwith Christmas it’s relatively quiet compared with other European cities.”
He says even with the Festival making August the peak month, the numbers are concentrated in the Royal Mile and the Old Town – and there are also many locals among the crowds. “You walk round Stockbridge or the New Town, they’re not busy.”
Ways of managing tourism include trying to encourage visitors to come out of peak season and to explore other parts of the city.
Mr Donnelly says: “The council is doing a lot of work and analysis around footfall and how do we disperse it.
“In Amsterdam there’s the centre and then they have created four different quarters and they promote these to move people round the town.”
But he adds: “People should not forget part of the reason people come to Edinburgh is because it’s busy – that’s the attraction. Walking down High Street in August to see Fringe acts, that’s fantastic.”
However, Mr Donnelly says if parts of the city like the High Street are suffering, the problem should not be ignored. “Let’s work out how we help that. Our approach at Marketing Edinburgh is everything has to be in balance between residents, businesses and visitors – if any one part of that triangle is pulled too far in one direction the city’s soul is lost. That’s what happened in Amsterdam and Barcelona, it went too much to the visitor economy and you got residents really kicking back.”
He says Edinburgh is “the jewel” of Scotland’s tourism industry.
“It needs to be nurtured, protected and invested in – 65 per cent of all international visitors to Scotland come here first then go on elsewhere. If the government should be investing in anything it should be investing in Edinburgh because everybody else in Scotland benefits as a result.”
Council leader Adam McVey says the plans to stage Festival shows at Leith Theatre this year will spread some of the benefits of tourism to other parts of the city. “Hopefully that’s a way of trying to share the gain which visitors being to shops, bars restaurants and cafes and also mitigate the impact on the city centre.”
But he says: “The numbers are increasing and are going to keep increasing. Edinburgh is a fantastic place to visit and that’s not going to change. We have to accept that and plan for it.
“There are always going to be restrictions on capacity for specific venues and attractions and the people who come here appreciate that.
“But we’re in the lucky position that there’s so much to do in the city it will be a very long time before the city as a collective is full,” he added.