Four million flock to Edinburgh festivals despite rain and Olympic Games

Edinburgh’s festivals withstood the impact of a clash with the Olympics and weeks of bad weather this year, with almost four million people flocking to the city’s events, new figures have revealed.

The city council’s annual audit of the capital’s flagship events reveals that ticket sales were down just 0.5 per cent this year – but attendances at non-ticketed events rose 5 per cent compared with the main season in 2011.

Figures show 2.4 million tickets were sold or distributed for official festival events from the Edinburgh International Film Festival in June to the Edinburgh International Festival (EIF), which ended early last month. A further 760,000 people attended free events or shows.

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However, these figures do not take into account the hundreds of free shows at the Fringe, or people taking in street theatre in areas including the Royal Mile and the Mound. It is understood a further 700,000 people flocked to the High Street alone, pushing the overall figure close to four million.

The figures would appear to be vindication of a move to plough an extra £1.2 million in public funding into the festivals to help them compete with the London Olympics, which overlapped the start of both the Fringe and the EIF.

Latest figures show the city council put £3.2m into the summer festivals, an increase of £300,000 on the previous year. The EIF secured by far the biggest allocation of funding, £2.5m in total from the council.

Visitor numbers to Art Festival shows, most of which were free, and the Book Festival site at Charlotte Square soared this year. The EIF recorded an increase in ticket sales of 1 per cent, but saw box office income jump 9 per cent. Despite its slowest sales for more than a decade, the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo said it managed to sell all 220,000 of its tickets.

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The Fringe – which sold 1.85 million tickets – and the Mela were the only events to see a drop in attendances this year, although the latter’s overall figures were marginally higher when free events were included.

Ticket sales at the Book Festival rose 3 per cent, and the Jazz & Blues Festival saw a 9 per cent increase. The Film Festival – which saw sales slump below 35,000 for the first time in years in 2011 when the event underwent a drastic “rethink” – saw numbers rise 16 per cent this summer.

Faith Liddell, director of umbrella group Festivals Edinburgh, said: “We have worked individually and collectively to create compelling new experiences that inspired and entertained our audiences as never before.”

Steve Cardownie, the council’s festivals and events champion, said: “Edinburgh’s summer festivals have once again performed fantastically well, attracting hundreds of thousands of visitors to the city and providing a welcome boost to our economy.”