Andrew Burns: Our cultural bonanza is a cause for celebration

Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2015 - High Street, Royal Mile, Street Act, Street Performers. Picture; Lisa Ferguson
Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2015 - High Street, Royal Mile, Street Act, Street Performers. Picture; Lisa Ferguson
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There is just no doubt that tourism more widely, and the Edinburgh festivals in particular, are of huge importance to the capital city, and to Scotland as a whole.

And, as Edinburgh is about to fully enter the 2016 festivals season, it’s worth reflecting on the huge, overall value (in every sense of the word) that this time of year provides to our home city.

As the current council leader in Edinburgh, I do understand the importance to our local economy of tourism, and specifically of the Edinburgh festivals – I know that Scotland’s capital city is one of the most desirable tourist destinations in Europe, welcoming an astounding four million individual visitors a year – that’s eight times the current resident-population of the whole city.

And Edinburgh also acts as the gateway to Scotland, with around 60 per cent of visitors spending time in the Capital before seeing other parts of the country. The world-class cultural offer in Edinburgh is also a vital stimulus for the wider city region’s significant creative and service industries.

Edinburgh’s cultural offer now centres on its 12 major festivals, which have unrivalled international appeal, and the year-round cultural infrastructure (providers and venues) which enable the festivals to thrive.

Indeed, just this week research has been published which confirms the huge contribution that Edinburgh’s festivals make to the quality of life, international reputation and economic vitality of Edinburgh and Scotland.

This latest “impact study”, which surveyed 29,000 people during 2015, shows that Edinburgh’s festivals continue to be Scotland’s world-leading cultural brand, delivering significant attendance numbers through their unrivalled cultural programmes.

Key findings from the study show that Edinburgh’s festivals are now attracting specific audiences of over 4.5 million, which puts them on a par with the football World Cup, and being second only to the Olympic Games. That’s right – last year, Edinburgh’s festivals were the same size in audience terms as this year’s World Cup in France; and there’s reason to believe that this year we will see a similar, if not larger audience attendance right here in Edinburgh.

This level of activity acts as a significant economic driver for Edinburgh and Scotland. Last year’s impact study showed that the festivals generated £280 million for the local economy and a further £313m for the wider Scottish economy. That economic activity provides a very real benefit to thousands of families here in Edinburgh – now supporting the equivalent of 5660 full time jobs – with a further 6021 full time jobs supported Scotland-wide, all directly due to the festivals.

The impact study also looked in detail at visitor’s impressions of Edinburgh as a result of their festivals experience – key findings show that 94 per cent of respondents believe that the festivals are part of what makes Edinburgh special as a city. It’s also very clear that the festivals create a sense of “civic pride” according to 89 per cent of audience members.

Amid these visitor statistics, it is crucial to remember that the festivals also attract a huge number of Edinburgh residents as audience members.

For nine years now the council – via an independent market research company - has undertaken a wide-ranging Edinburgh People Survey (EPS) to gauge the feelings of residents by asking quality of life issues.

Last year’s survey found that 63 per cent of residents participated in the festivals, which were the most common cultural activity for local citizens, while also showing that those participating in cultural activities were more likely to have a positive view of the Capital.

All of this is obviously positive news as we approach 2017 and the 70th anniversary of the birth of Edinburgh as a festival city and reminds us that our distinctive cultural offering remains the envy of other cities around the world.