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Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce and Essential Edinburgh who between them represent the interests of around 1,500 businesses, are delivering a clear message to a major consultation on the future of the winter festivals, asking to make them better – not smaller.
Both organisations point to the multitude of benefits the winter festivals deliver to local people and businesses, and in particular their vital role in the recovery of our hard-hit tourism and hospitality sectors and the tens of thousands of Edinburgh jobs they support as the country emerges from the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.
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Tackling the city’s priorities of social inclusion and sustainability will need business to bounce back, including the vital retail, tourism and hospitality sectors which employ tens of thousands of local people.
Both organisations have called for an ongoing debate to clearly identify, articulate and mitigate those concerns felt by some around the city’s festivals with a view to improving the delivery of Edinburgh’s world-renowned events.
Their comments come as a 12-week consultation into the future of the winter festivals – conducted by an independent market research company on behalf of Edinburgh City Council – ends.
Liz McAreavey, chief executive of Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce, said: “Edinburgh is the envy of the world for its reputation as the world’s leading festival city. In turn, and among many benefits, this has helped sustain a year-round visitor industry which has attracted huge benefits in terms of investment, development, job creation and cultural and emotional well-being. Our festivals and our tourist industry are a massive success story.
“That’s not to say we shouldn’t look at how we can bring improvements and do things better, and how we share the benefits brought more widely. But we certainly should not be taken down a route that could lead to the city losing or diminishing something of such international standing and value.
“There are many businesses which will not be sustainable if we continue to lose footfall, already 20 per cent of businesses in Edinburgh are facing the risk of insolvency and that grows to 30 per cent in the hospitality and tourism sectors. Edinburgh is a major contributor to the Scottish and UK economy and Scotland needs Edinburgh to perform at the top of its game if the economy is to recover quickly.”
Roddy Smith, chief executive of Essential Edinburgh – which runs the city centre Business Improvement District – added: “The Christmas and New Year period is a crucial one to many businesses and to do anything to reduce visitors to the city centre at this time of year will have significant consequences for the city.
“No-one could argue that we can’t deliver our festivals in a better and more sustainable way. But to make decisions that may adversely affect the numbers of visitors and residents that attend events, especially in the city centre, will directly impact on the business community, jobs, our ability to recover post Covid-19 and our attractiveness as a destination.”
Both business organisations have pointed to some of the key benefits the winter festivals bring including; around £160m in direct economic benefit, supporting thousands of local jobs; direct benefit to more than 600 local suppliers who work with the winter festivals; around one-third of those attending the winter festival events sold are local people, with a further third of visitors coming from Scotland; and high levels of support among local people for the city’s festivals.
Mr Smith of Essential Edinburgh points to the need to look seriously at how and where the city hosts outdoor events to ensure best use of valuable public spaces in the city centre, taking the views of local people into account.
He added: “All city partners need to look objectively at the festivals, and we support the review and the issue of sustainability and how we can do things better. The starting point for this is to make the festivals better and more attractive to residents and visitors, not to reduce their scale or economic impact on the city.”
One option that could be further explored is to spread the benefits the festivals bring more evenly through the city, using more established and permanent venues. Alan Laidlaw, chief executive of the Royal Highland Agricultural Society of Scotland based at Ingliston, believes the Royal Highand Showground ‘could achieve some interesting things for the city’.
The Chamber’s Liz McAreavey said: “The winter festivals provide and protect jobs directly; they help support thousands of jobs indirectly; they help power our creative industries; they bring high-spending foreign visitors to hotels and restaurants at a time of year when the city might otherwise be quiet, and in doing so encourage huge investment in our built infrastructure; they play a major role in making our city the global, cosmopolitan capital that it is; they help to promote our city to the world.
“We all acknowledge and understand the need to manage the success and growth of our festivals to reduce strain on our city’s resources. Where mistakes have been made, we should learn from them. But we need to move the debate forward to protect all that is positive, and we need to acknowledge that they do indeed create many more positives than negatives.”