Benefits of pandas are there to see in black and white

Yang Guang
Yang Guang
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Giant pandas Tian Tian and Yang Guang settle into their new home, David McCann examines their value to the zoo, and the Capital

THEY are arguably the most sought-after celebrity couple in the country, dominating headlines and news reels across the world.

Not since the June wedding of Zara Phillips and Mike Tindall has the Capital played host to such a media cavalcade, but while the royal nuptials may have piqued only a fleeting international interest, the arrival from China of giant pandas Tian Tian and Yang Guang at Edinburgh Zoo has cultivated a genuinely global audience – and potentially a huge boost for the city’s economy.

Images of the pandas chomping down on bamboo in their Scottish enclosure were picked up and beamed across the world. A cursory glance over global coverage shows newspapers from the US, Europe, China and India carried reports of the panda coup.

Panda footage was even broadcast on Chinese state television, while it is understood ABC News’ flagship programme Good Morning America was sourcing video clips to air across the US.

With around 110 press passes issued to the world’s media, and at least eight Chinese correspondents reporting back to a population of nearly one billion, the economic upswing for the Capital – by way of positive advertising – is incalculable but certainly not insubstantial. While Edinburgh Zoo must fork out around £637,105 for each year of the pandas’ decade-long stay – omitting the annual £70,000 bill for bamboo – conservative estimates project that an extra one million people will visit the attraction over the next ten years.

If calculated in terms of the popular family ticket, costing £47.50, this could generate an additional £1,187,500 annually, with that figure increasing with single adult tickets of £15.50 and single child tickets of £11.

Zoo chiefs admit they have been cautious with their sums, estimating only a 35 per cent increase in entry figures for the first year despite counterparts in Adelaide and Atlanta doubling that number during their pandas’ debut year.

Tourism chiefs believe the pandas provide an “even more compelling” reason to visit Edinburgh itself while there has been suggestions that the city economy could benefit more broadly.

Experts at the Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce, however, suggested that the value of cementing business and diplomatic ties with China was likely to be the real boon from the panda deal.

Graham Birse, the body’s managing director, said: “These pandas will open doors for us and not just in terms of tourism or conservation but in a whole raft of services from education to bioscience, from medical to financial services.

“If we were to try to pay for the coverage the pandas have brought us over the last few months in advertising we quite simply wouldn’t be able to afford it. That’s now in the bank but the other thing is the opportunity [with China] and what we make of it. That all depends on how creative and prepared we are to work in partnership with the Chinese but there’s no doubt there will be a significant economic impact to be derived for the Edinburgh economy as a result of this.”

He added: “If some cubs come along then we really have hit the jackpot.”