Warning of ‘catastrophe’ if Marketing Edinburgh forced to shut

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SCOTLAND’S national tourism body has warned it would be “a catastrophe” if the Capital scraps the organisation responsible for selling Edinburgh to the world.

And VisitScotland made clear it would not step in to take over if the council goes ahead with plans to withdraw 90 per cent of Marketing Edinburgh’s funding.

A scene from the filming of the VisitScotland 'Homecoming 2014' advert. Edinburgh Festival Fringe - High Street, Royal Mile, Edinburgh. Pic: Paul Tomkins / VisitScotland

A scene from the filming of the VisitScotland 'Homecoming 2014' advert. Edinburgh Festival Fringe - High Street, Royal Mile, Edinburgh. Pic: Paul Tomkins / VisitScotland

In a letter, Neil Brownlee, VisitScotland’s head of business events, underlined how vital business events and conferences were to the Capital.

He wrote: “To be a successful city, you need to have a convention bureau. That’s what the clients want. There needs to be that level of co-ordination.

“Without a convention bureau, Edinburgh simply would not be adept or prepared to be a player – at any level – in business events. This is not a market that tolerates ‘amateur hour’. They simply go elsewhere, where they are understood.”

And he warned: “VisitScotland Business Events would not move into this space, or pick up any of the Edinburgh convention bureau remit.

Neil Brownlee (Head of Business Tourism at VisitScotland)

Neil Brownlee (Head of Business Tourism at VisitScotland)

“We are not the backstop and I think that needs to be known.”

Mr Brownlee said business events were catalysts for economic and social progress.

“Every major city in the world is moving towards that understanding of business events/conferences.

“It would be simply astounding for the capital city of Scotland to deem itself above this fundamental requirement that cities like Melbourne, London, Vancouver, Singapore, San Francisco, New York, Paris, Sydney, Berlin and indeed Liverpool, Manchester and Torquay consider essential.

“Such a move would not go unnoticed by the markets, clients and influencers in the business events and academic worlds. It would be a declaration of Edinburgh’s lack of intent and ambition.”

The council is set to cut its grant to Marketing Edinburgh from £890,000 to £790,000 over the next two years as part of its search for savings of £41 million following worse-than-expected cuts in funding from the Scottish Government.

It is understood the hope is that the private sector in the shape of hotels, the airport and other tourism-related businesses may step in to help make up the shortfall.

But Marketing Edinburgh chief executive John Donnelly has already warned the cut could leave Edinburgh as the only city in the developed world without a destination marketing management organisation.

Council Tory group leader Iain Whyte said the message from VisitScotland was clear and strong - and not unexpected.

“Their job is Scotland-wide and you would not expect them to step in to subsidise the city,” he said.

“The key thing here is finding a way forward that resolves the budget issues for the council but keeps some form of marketing going, both a convention bureau and wider tourism marketing. That’s a collaboration with business and it has to be a fair collaboration.”

He said there had been a “huge turnaround” in attitude from the previous Labour-SNP administration to the current one.

“They seem to have completely ditched and ignored city marketing, economy issues the things that make the city a vibrant place where we partner with business to ensure there are jobs for people.

“They have a housing and economy committee but sometimes you wonder if anyone is bothering about the economy part.

“The leadership don’t seem to understand or pay any attention to business in the city.

“Marketing Edinburgh, like every other part of the council, may have to look at efficiencies but a cut that just wipes it out at a stroke doesn’t seem a sensible thing to do.”

Green City Centre councillor Claire Miller said she recognised the scale of the cuts proposed for Marketing Edinburgh.

But she said: “I do wonder if the industry which profits so handsomely from the organisation’s work should be stepping up to the plate a bit more, rather than assuming that shrinking council budgets will do the job.

“Of course, with the potential for a tourist levy to raise more income there may be a light on the horizon for some of the activities that Marketing Edinburgh carries out so the quicker that happens the better.”

And Liberal Democrat Kevin Lang said when core services were under threat as a result Scottish Government funding cuts, other council spending had to come under scrutiny.

He said: “As a capital city we want to have a strong body effectively marketing the city both for business and tourism. The problem stems from the fact the council is being forced to cut over £40m from its budget.

“When we are facing having to cuts social care, nursery staffing and police numbers it is inevitable we have to start looking at organisations like Marketing Edinburgh. It’s not through choice. It is a decision being forced on the council because of the Scottish Government.

“I would encourage Marketing Edinburgh, VisitScotland and anyone else concerned not just to apply pressure on the council, but they should be going to the Scottish Government and talking to them about the impact of these cuts.”

Council leader Adam McVey said: “The reduction of funding to Marketing Edinburgh is just one of a number of proposals which will be considered as part of our budget setting process and this is exactly the kind of feedback we want through our public engagement.

“We’ve said throughout this process that we face significant financial challenges and are faced with tough decisions as a result.

“This is a difficult decision and it’s one that I fully want to hear from the business community on – what it would mean for them and their business and what they think it means for medium and long term. We will fully consider all feedback.”