IT’S the letter that sparked a thousand comments. Since publishing US tourist Grace Migliaccio’s hyper-critical portrayal of Edinburgh in yesterday’s paper and online the day before, we have been inundated with responses from residents and businesses across the city.
In a 500-word diatribe penned after a visit to the Capital, Ms Migliaccio, from Pennsylvania, lashed out at the city’s “dirty” streets and complicated parking system – as well as the “indifference or hostility” she met with from waiters, venue staff and shopkeepers.
The controversial letter quickly racked up almost 900 comments when we posted it to our Facebook page and was viewed more than 17,000 times. E-mails and letters also flooded in.
Many readers, not just from the Capital but visitors from across the world, were outraged by her “patronising tone and insults”, taking issue with her negative caricature of a city that regularly tops lists of the world’s best travel destinations.
But more than a few of you agreed with her assessment, particularly on issues relating to litter and parking – long-running battles in a city with an ever-expanding population.
Ms Migliaccio’s letter comes as tens of thousands of tourists descend on the Capital for the Festival, the world’s largest arts event and the city’s biggest money-spinner.
And last week, we revealed more foreign companies than ever are flocking to set up home in Edinburgh in a bid to take advantage of its flourishing technology sector and world-famous universities.
So today we ask the question – does Ms Migliaccio have a point? Could Edinburgh do more to accommodate the millions of tourists who prop up its booming economy?
Roddy Smith, right, chief executive of Essential Edinburgh, said visitor surveys consistently showed high levels of satisfaction – with many globe-trotters returning “time after time”.
He said: “I certainly don’t recognise the Edinburgh I know and love from this lady’s comments, but while I absolutely disagree with a great deal of what is said, we should not be complacent and we should learn what we can from her experience and comments.
“I suppose the most significant points made are around parking and cleanliness. Visitors unaccustomed to our parking system may find difficulties – as we might when we travel overseas – so we should try to do all we can to make it easier.
“However, there is a need to look at city centre parking in a more holistic way, rather than just from the perspective of visitors, and that is a conversation Essential Edinburgh is engaged in with the council.
“In terms of tidiness, we should all, as citizens, take responsibility for keeping our city clean and tidy. The centre scores well compared with other parts of the city in the annual surveys which are undertaken into cleanliness, but we always have room to improve.”
Opposition councillors, meanwhile, insisted the tourist’s complaints were a “wake-up call” to bring the city’s mess under control.
Green councillor Chas Booth, who represents Leith, said: “I think Grace is absolutely right that Edinburgh could do a lot better in keeping our streets clean.
“Grace’s letter is just the latest piece of evidence that residents and visitors alike are disappointed with the service they get from the council when it comes to street cleaning and litter.
“The Greens have consistently argued for more action to tackle dog fouling and litter, and Grace’s letter shows that if we don’t get this right, it can have a negative impact on people’s expectations of Edinburgh .”
Tory councillor Joanna Mowat, right, who represents the city centre, said: “I think the comments she makes about the streets not being clean are spot on.
“There’s too much litter and the bins are overflowing. Is this city as tidy and clean as other European cities? No, I don’t think it is. No-one can say this is a clean city.
“But I think she’s a bit unfair on our greeting. Service is patchy – you can get good service and you can get poor service. I’m sorry she had that experience. I think sometimes Scots can be a bit grumpy, but I don’t think that’s true all the time.”
Last August saw a bumper year at the Fringe, with many theatre operators reporting record-breaking sales. The vast number of visitors puts Edinburgh firmly in the spotlight – piling pressure on the city to look its best over the coming weeks.
But John Donnelly, above right, chief executive of Marketing Edinburgh, said Ms Migliaccio’s negative views were “overwhelmingly in the minority” – arguing the Capital regularly topped visitor-voted awards.
He said: “It’s perhaps a fair point that our current parking system is geared more towards residents and day visitors than foreign travellers, but I’d argue that this is a compact city, easy to walk around and navigate on foot.
“We have a solid public infrastructure through our trains, trams and buses, all of which offer a number of ways to pay. As we do with our residents, we encourage visitors to make best use of those facilities.
“Edinburgh is the most visited UK city by international tourists after London, receiving more than 1.3 million overseas visitors annually. Respondents to last year’s Edinburgh Visitor Survey rated customer service at its attractions, restaurants, shops and hotels 8.3 or above out of ten.”
Neil Greig, director of policy and research at the Institute of Advanced Motorists, said Ms Migliaccio’s complaints around parking were merely highlighting a long-running issue.
He said: “I think there’s been a parking issue in Edinburgh for as long as anyone can remember. There’s clearly an issue that over the years they have not kept pace with the demand – we’ve only really had one new multi-storey car park built in the last ten years or so.
“That’s led to this constant battle for limited on-street spaces – particularly among visitors, who would expect to be able to park quite close to the city centre because they won’t know about the alternatives.
“Things like on-street parking machines in a place like Edinburgh should be multilingual, and they should be able to take cards. If you want to get Edinburgh up there as the top tourist destination, you’ve got to make it easy to park.”
But who better to counter the American tourist’s claims than someone who deals with rowdy visitors on a regular basis?
Justin Davis, who runs the Edinburgh Pub Crawl, insisted Ms Migliaccio had missed the very things that make the Capital a must-see destination.
He said: “Where Grace goes wrong, other than the patronising tone and insults, is that she can’t see our little amazing city for what it is. Her complaint about Auld Reekie’s black sooty buildings is ludicrous. The soot is part of our spooky charm and our Gothic look – it keeps photographers foaming at the mouth at how perfectly picturesque our city is.
“Poor Grace also had to deal with the parking issues of Edinburgh and the bank in one day, and in fairness to her that’s a day I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemies. But she’s out of touch again. She’s in a rare position to see Scottish culture in its truest form – our invigorating grumpiness – and she’s missing it. The fact that no-one offered Grace fake and lazy customer service buzzwords on the Royal Mile is something I am extremely proud of.”
But he admitted Grace “hits the nail on the head” regarding the city’s dirt and litter – and warned bad press resulting from these problems could have “a knock-on effect” on the tourism industry “that will eventually affect jobs”.
Responding to the letter, council leader Andrew Burns said: “It is very disappointing to hear that Ms Migliaccio did not have a positive impression of the city. We take the issues she raises very seriously indeed and want the ever increasing number of people who choose to visit Edinburgh to have a positive and welcoming experience.
“With the significantly increased number of people in the city in the weeks ahead comes an increased need to tackle litter and keep the streets clean and tidy. Our street cleansing teams will be working around the clock to make sure Edinburgh is at its very best for everyone to enjoy, visitors and residents alike.”