Edinburgh shops and bars enjoy surge in Christmas visitors

Shops and restaurants are enjoying a bumper run-up to Christmas after seeing a massive surge in visitors to the city centre.

Saturday, 17th December 2016, 6:58 am
Updated Saturday, 17th December 2016, 8:41 am
Shoppers have been hitting Princes Street and other city centre destinations in droves. Picture: Neil Hanna

More than 150,000 more people visited the Princes Street and George Street area during the first two weeks of the busiest Christmas shopping period compared to last year. Shops are enjoying higher takings despite growing online competition, but bars, restaurants and hotels are the biggest winners. Some hotels are effectively fully booked.

The popularity of Edinburgh’s Christmas – which has been drawing more visitors, especially from outside the region – is being credited for the huge crowds as well as warmer weather. The number of people visiting the city centre is up 11 per cent on last year when the Forth Road Bridge was shut and the weather was a wash-out. It marks a stark contrast to the national decline of 3 per cent to 5 per cent in high street footfall.

Roddy Smith, chief executive of Essential Edinburgh, which runs the city centre Business Improvement District, said it was “fantastic” news. He said: “It shows the superb Christmas festivities in the city centre combined with our high quality retail and leisure offering.

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“Bringing the Street of Light to the west end of George Street was a key strategic decision to animate the west end of the city centre and ensure our huge increases in footfall benefit the whole city centre.

“Its impact has been huge and beyond our expectations. It shows clearly that the provision of such a quality installation supports businesses of all levels throughout the city.”

Some 724,400 visitors were recorded in the last week of November, compared to 649,686 in the equivalent week last year. The first week of December saw footfall rise from 674,741 in 2015 to 753,686 this year.

Peter Heggie, manager of East India Trading Company, said: “It’s the busiest I can remember in the city centre in the ten years I’ve spent working on George Street.

“We are seeing lots of people out and about, with footfall driven by all of the attractions and – on George Street – by the Street of Light in particular.

“Local people have been enjoying the festive build-up, but we’ve also seen loads of visitors, in particular from the north of England but also from the north of Scotland.

“It’s been very good, so much so that we’ve extended our trading hours every day.”

The news comes after Edinburgh’s Christmas was forced to adopt crowd control measures to deal with the huge number of visitors wanting to enjoy its streets markets.

City centre councillor Joanna Mowat said: “There figures can be quite weather dependent and it is noticeable that the weather has been fairly dry which always helps keep the numbers up.

“Edinburgh’s Christmas does seem to be driving footfall significantly and given the reports that people felt it got very crowded, I hope next year we can have less concentrated attractions to spread the footfall more evenly across the city centre.”