DIRECTORS at the key Fringe theatres have hailed this year’s arts extravaganza as the biggest and best ever – with several reporting record-breaking ticket sales.
Punters have thronged to venues including the Assembly Rooms and The Stand Comedy Club, as box office takings surge ahead of last year and reach a new all-time high.
Evidence is also emerging that the benefits of this summer’s “insanely busy” festival season have spread to other businesses, with the Capital’s cabbies predicting takings will be well up on previous years.
Signs of a boom come despite fears that the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow and a rapidly strengthening pound would divert visitors and make a trip to the Festival less affordable.
City leaders said they were far from complacent about Edinburgh’s status as the world’s festival city and have embarked on a new study into how to preserve its pre-eminence amid a growing challenge from international rivals.
With major Fringe operators such as The Pleasance and Underbelly still to report figures, and a greater number of free and pop-up venues than ever before, it is also unclear whether the huge footfall has translated into higher sales across the board.
But venue bosses are bullish about prospects for a bumper Fringe and have predicted the event will continue to go from strength to strength.
Tommy Sheppard, director of Salt n Sauce Promotions, which operates The Stand and the Assembly Rooms, said: “We’re heading for another record year on the Fringe. On Saturday, we broke our total sales for last year so every ticket we sell from now on is an increase.
“Between The Stand and the Assembly Rooms, we did 181,000 ticket sales in 2013. We’re already past that and aiming for 200,000. I think we would certainly be at least ten per cent up on last year.
“What we need to do is look to the strengths of the Festival and play to them. The biggest thing that the Fringe and the Festival as a whole have going for them is longevity.
“We’ve had so many millions of people over the years who have had such a good experience here and that stands us in good stead.”
He added: “It’s an opportune time to look at the relationship between the various festivals and how they can work better together to cross-promote and maybe even on some occasions collaborate on programming.”
Just The Tonic at the Caves on Cowgate confirmed ticket sales were up by “at least a half”, with sell-out shows every night, while Greenside Venues said they had jumped at least ten per cent on last year.
Sam Midwood, a member of the box office team at Just The Tonic, said: “Most of our shows were sold out within days. I have been living in Edinburgh for five years. I would say we have sold half more than at this time last year.”
Tara Kilbourne, director at Greenside, which has added a venue at Nicolson Square to its Royal Terrace base, said: “We are really happy with the increase in terms of our audience figures.
“It’s been great – a step in the right direction. We’ve had great interest in our new space and we’re really happy with how things have gone. I would think that we’ve seen a double-digit increase in ticket sales at Greenside.”
Cabbies are enjoying one of their busiest festival seasons ever, with anecdotal evidence suggesting 2014 could break records for the total number of taxi journeys.
Tony Kenmuir, director of Central Taxis, said: “It feels like a very busy festival. We’ve been insanely busy, all day every day. Business has been great.”
Edinburgh Taxi Association secretary Raymond Davidson added: “It’s been very busy. Drivers are saying to me that they’ve been extremely busy this year, especially going into the last weekend and the bank holiday. We’re expecting an extremely busy weekend.
“I think it’s been exceptional. The weather has been a big factor, it’s been lovely and warm most of the time. There’s not been any heavy rain.
“I’ve noticed a lot more visitors from England this year, and a lot of tourists from Ireland as well. Everything seems to be pointing to a successful festival season. It’s fabulous for business.
“I think it’s certainly shaping up to be the busiest ever. It’s heading that way, with record numbers. If anyone says otherwise, they’re not looking at the true picture.”
Other venues and organisations were tight-lipped about ticket sales and visitor numbers, and said they would reveal figures once the Festival had finished and results were collected.
But Steve Cardownie, the city’s festivals and events champion, insisted this year’s event was shaping up to be the “best and busiest ever” and said promoters deserved the praise.
He said: “I have never seen the Old Town and High Street busier, with bands and performers popping up everywhere. It’s just fantastic. Everybody has got the idea that there are more people here than in other years. The city is absolutely buzzing.
“I have spoken to people who say they love the city and want to come back, and everywhere has queues outside. There are lots of free events so I don’t know if that will be reflected in ticket sales.
“But this is great for Edinburgh and the Festival keeps going from strength to strength. There is no place that has this offering for three weeks like we do.”
Late-night trams laid on
FESTIVAL revellers will have the chance to catch late-night trams home – just weeks after city chiefs ruled out breaching the 11pm cut-off.
Trams will rumble on until half-past midnight for four days over the next fortnight in a pilot scheme that could see services extended during other major events.
A bumper influx of tourists is expected over the busiest weekend of the summer, with the late trams running from Friday until Sunday
They will also run late between Princes Street and the airport on August 31, the night of the festival-ending fireworks concert.
Officials say the trial will test plans to operate late services during special events, with Christmas, Hogmanay and the Six Nations singled out as potential future dates.
Last month, the News told how tram chiefs were coming under fire after insisting they would not be running late services.
Transport convener Councillor Lesley Hinds said: “I’ve been very impressed with how customer-focused Edinburgh Trams are and how they’re continually exploring ways of enhancing their service in response to major events which draw large crowds into the city.
“As they demonstrated in their very first week of passenger service when they ran later trams to help fans get home safely after the 1D concert at Murrayfield, the Edinburgh Trams team are already well-practised at adapting their operation. By trialling late running at the height of festival season, we’ll be able to get a picture of what might be possible in the future.”
A string of big-names figures on the festival scene, such as Tommy Sheppard and Susan Morrison, hit out after the council refused to run late trams in August.
However, extra carriages deployed for major events such as Celtic and One Direction playing at Murrayfield prompted a re-think.
Tom Norris, director and general manager of Edinburgh Trams, said: “This is a great opportunity for Edinburgh Trams to pilot longer running hours during a major event for the city and over what we hope will be very busy weekends.
“There are no plans to extend the timetable during normal operations but, in future, and if there is a business case, we may well want to offer a tram service longer into the night for certain events.
“We’ll keep this trial under close review to help gauge our approach to future events.
Mr Norris added: “We’ve already run beyond the standard timetable to cover the 1D concert to make sure all of the 10,000 who wanted to use the tram to get home could do so.
“We also adapted the service following the recent European ties at Murrayfield but this is the first time we’ve formally extended the timetable and we’re looking forward to welcoming passengers on board.”
Staff will work overtime to lay on the extra services, a spokesman for Transport for Edinburgh confirmed.