‘As Edinburgh tourism soars, businesses face challenges and new opportunities’ - Liz McAreavey

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As we enjoy the countdown to Christmas and look forward to the festive break, in good Charles Dickens style it might be worthwhile reflecting on the ghost of Edinburgh’s year past and on how times are changing and how business needs to adapt to the new pace and challenges that the New Year will bring.

This has been a year when tourism hit record numbers, bringing enormous economic benefits and employment. Hogmanay, the Edinburgh Festival and Fringe, sporting events and the Winter Festival attract more than four million tourists, bringing in more than £1.5 billion and supporting more than 30,000 jobs.

Liz McAreavey is chief executive of Edinburgh Chamber Of Commerce

Liz McAreavey is chief executive of Edinburgh Chamber Of Commerce

Yet, during this year past, concerns have emerged about whether Edinburgh can continue to comfortably accommodate so many visitors. With continued growth forecast, and a growing local population, debate has raged about how we invest to protect our city. Proposals for a Transient Visitor Levy are now on the table to ensure we invest and manage the future of our city and its vibrant and critical tourism industry.

The City Region Deal was signed in August, bringing in £1.3 billion of funding, with both the UK and Scottish Governments contributing. Unlike most City Deals, which focus on regeneration and infrastructure, Edinburgh and the South East Scotland Deal is primarily about building on our success, in particular digital skills and data-driven innovation.

The age of automation and robotics is upon us and we need to ensure we have a skilled workforce and an economic environment that supports and nurtures our future competitiveness and attracts businesses to locate here. The University of Edinburgh will deliver 100,000 digitally skilled people over the next 10 years which will certainly create an enviable pool of talent.

This new online world and Internet of Things means life has changed forever. The high street and retail sector are having to adapt quickly and will need to be more creative in attracting shoppers. There are huge opportunities for those who will create the future, redefining how consumers engage.

Edinburgh has had another successful economic year, ranking as the second city in the UK for gross value added and disposable income. We also have a stellar record of business start-ups, with a rise of 18.5 per cent in the past five years, compared with a national average of 10.4 per cent. Business survival rate beyond five years of 44.1 per cent is just behind Leeds at 44.2 per cent.

This gives us a strong base, but encouraging businesses to scale, internationalise and remain here is the focus going forward. Capacity for growth in a city that has heritage and space constraints remains a challenge and an opportunity. Perhaps a second ‘New Town’ to the west of Edinburgh is a real opportunity, with Crosswinds developments at Edinburgh Airport, Parabola at Edinburgh Park and the Edinburgh International Business Gateway creating one of the largest developments in Europe. This could attract global companies to Edinburgh seeking quality of life and talent and these we have in spades. Arcadis recently published its 100 Global Cities Report and said: “Edinburgh ranks as the most liveable city in the world, with an enviable position as a centre for tourism, low crime rate and status as an attractive place to live and work all contributing to its success.”

So a good point to end the year, proud of our achievements but not complacent. Much needs to be done to address inequalities that are unacceptable in Edinburgh. Encouragingly, there is a genuine willingness by key stakeholders to create a collaborative partnership to build on our success and make a major contribution to Scotland in 2019.

I almost got to the end without mentioning Brexit, so I won’t! Best wishes for a relaxing Christmas and prosperous New Year.

Liz McAreavey, chief executive, Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce