John McLellan: Edinburgh’s festivals are no threat to civilisation

Street performers on the Royal Mile (Picture: PA)
Street performers on the Royal Mile (Picture: PA)
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Calls for controls on the number of visitors to Edinburgh in August must be balanced by the popularity of the Festivals amongst locals; create a brilliant experience for residents and visitors will want to come, and vice versa.

Released last month, the latest attendance figures show just how dominant the Fringe continues to be, but how relatively fragile the rest of it is.

Fringe sales went up 200,000 last year to 2,697,000, 22 per cent of them (600,000 tickets) to locals. But the International Festival sales were down 10,000 to 187,000 and the Art Festival dropped nearly a fifth to 61,800. But locals support them both, with 40 per cent and 36 per cent of their audiences respectively. The Film (53,000) and Book Festivals (138,000) continued to grow and had the highest local attendances at 54 and 50 per cent.

Concerns about the city’s ability to cope centre on the 60 per cent of the Fringe audience from the rest of the UK or overseas, on top of the demand for accommodation from the casts and crews for an expanding number of shows.City centre accommodation has been an issue for many years, but do the other problems – that we are being told are leading to the destruction of Edinburgh civilisation as we know it – extend much beyond the Old Town? By every measure we are some distance from the extreme difficulties facing places like Amsterdam and Venice.

Tollcross is barely a ten-minute walk from the Usher Hall, the EICC or the Grassmarket, but even with the King’s Theatre at its heart it isn’t exactly thronging in the Festival season. In other words, Edinburgh might have management issues at pinch points, but it’s not bursting at the seams.

So despite complaints in some quarters about city life in August, thousands of Edinburgh citizens take full advantage of what’s on offer, and these figures don’t include the free events which attract over half a million people. By contrast, only three per cent of the Tattoo’s 220,000 tickets are bought by Edinburgh residents. But then again, when was the last time you visited the Castle?