Edinburgh residents urged to fall back in love with city to help economy recover

‘We’ve gone from over-tourism to no tourism’

Saturday, 6th June 2020, 7:30 am
Residents will have to be the tourists in their own city this summer

EDINBURGH residents are being urged to “fall back in love” with the city as it faces a summer season with no tourists.

With the festivals cancelled, the Capital’s shops, hotels, bars and restaurants - hoping to reopen soon - cannot rely on visitors from outside the city.

So as the lockdown is eased, Edinburgh’s own citizens could hold the key to launching the economic recovery.

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Labour MSP Sarah Boyack says the lack of tourists will be a social and economic shock

In a panel discussion staged online by Edinburgh World Heritage, looking at the city post-Covid, Lothian Labour MSP Sarah Boyack said: “We’ve gone from overtourism to no tourism.

“There’s lots of us think the city gets too busy in the summer but going from that to nothing is going to be a massive shock both socially and economically.

“There’s going to be a lot of people not going anywhere for the next two or three months. We’re not going to have the usual summer holiday exodus.

“We need to rediscover our own city, we need to use it, we need to fall back in love with it.

“We need to think: What are the businesses we can support over the next few weeks and months? How do we bring Edinburgh back to life?

“How do we promote the city to the people who live here, or nearby? How do we get ourselves out and about in the city again and get the economy going?

“Part of our challenge is we’re not going to have a lot of tourists for quite a long time. We’re going to miss the summer in Scotland.

“We are going to be the tourists in our own city for the next few months.”

The discussion, chaired by Adam Wilkinson in his last appearance as director of Edinburgh World Heritage before he moves to a new post, ranged over many topics, including poverty, homelessness, transport and sustainability, but tourism was a recurring theme.

Ms Boyack argued the city should be marketed differently. “We often promote ourselves as a short-term visit, just for the weekend. If you think about Edinburgh and the surrounding regions there’s a lot more to see than just for a couple of nights.

“I think we need to think about different types of tourism as well. I spent a lot of time supporting residents who were suffering from hen and stag weekends - but there is a different kind of tourism out there and when a lot of us go on holidays it’s that kind of tourism we’re enjoying.”

Lothian Green MSP Alison Johnstone said when she was growing up in Edinburgh a visit to any of the city’s heritage venues was “a major deal, a huge day out”.

She said: “I think it should be embedded in our curriculum and we should all know our heritage inside out.”

She decried the “mass tourism” she said Edinburgh had experienced in recent years and advocated instead what could be promoted as “slow tourism”.

“We’re seeing almost the destruction of some fabulous cities across the world - the impact on Venice and Barcelona have been very well documented - and in the last few years Edinburgh has started to feel remarkably different.

“We have people now who are leading large groups holding up flags in order to see who you’re with.”

She said there were adverts for trips involving a couple of days in Edinburgh and then heading off to the Highlands.

“It’s all rush, rush. rush. We talk about slow food, I think we could talk about slow tourism - see more, do more, really immerse yourself in a place.”

And she warned tourism should not be allowed to harm the city’s heritage.

“The way we value art and culture and heritage, we’ve got to see that outwith the tourism bubble alone - we have to look at what the intrinsic value of culture and heritage is. It can’t only be about always attracting more and more people because that can damage the very heritage we’re trying to protect.”

But Lothian Tory MSP Jeremy Balfour said Edinburgh would have to cater for what visitors wanted and argued the city could lose out because lockdown was lasting longer in Scotland than elsewhere.

He said: “We have to see what kind of tourist world we have when we come out of this. It will be individuals who come to our city who decide what they want and we have to be able to provide that for them, while at the same time making sure it doesn’t adversely affect the people who live in the city.

“I agree we should not see this as a place where you come on a Friday and leave on the Sunday night, but stay for longer. There is a lot we can offer around that.

“But we need to get the tourists back. And the bigger challenge we face is that many of our rivals out there, in England and other parts of Europe, are going to be open this year - and how do we counter that in 2021?

“I think we’ve got to grab it quickly and get people back into the city - and we’ve got to know what they want. If not, we’re going to see the industry really struggle for the next few years.”

Council leader Adam McVey said shortly before the pandemic the council had agreed a new tourism strategy which replaced the previous aim of encouraging growth - adopted in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis - with a new emphasis on sustainability and fair work.

“When we signed that plan off, we thought that would be a gradual evolution of the industry towards those principles as a guiding light, moving towards that longer-term objective

“What Covid has given us is an ability for very many hospitality businesses in the city to start with something approaching a blank canvass - it gives them the ability to look at their operations, how they engage and market themselves in the context of the city as a whole, how services are delivered within their building and how they staff that.

“These principles should not just be long-term aims - now we have the ability to accelerate them.”

He praised the sector for taking the same view and not seeking to return to the old idea of constant growth.

“From my perspective, we have the plan, what we need to do is find a way of navigating the current challenges we face and reach that long-term vision quicker than we otherwise might have.”

A survey last month found when the lockdown is lifted, Scots will prefer day trips, then Scottish breaks and holidays before trips to other parts of the UK or abroad.

But the countryside had the most appeal, followed by the seaside, then towns and cities.

The Highlands, rural parts of southern Scotland and the islands were all more popular than they have been recently.

And attendance at events and festivals had much less appeal than previously.

People were keen to avoid busy places and were very aware of physical distancing.