Campaign against Edinburgh’s over-tourism just got a massive boost – Helen Martin

Pete Irvine should be applauded for recognising the problem of 'over-tourism' in Edinburgh. Picture: Neil Hanna
Pete Irvine should be applauded for recognising the problem of 'over-tourism' in Edinburgh. Picture: Neil Hanna
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OF all the people we hoped would campaign against Edinburgh’s over-tourism, we never expected Pete Irvine, the king of Hogmanay in the Capital, to lead the way.

We must all doff our caps and applaud him for recognising the scale of the problem, calling for serious control and stating how over-tourism is making some areas “impassable” and obliterating the medieval and historic atmosphere of the city.

Most people who make money from tourism seem to think crowds of tourists impeding progress, ignoring crossings and meandering in front of traffic, spilling out into residential areas and turning Edinburgh into a magic Disneyland, are essential for our survival, rather than ruining the city.

READ MORE: Edinburgh’s Hogmanay creator warns city in grip of ‘overtourism’ crisis

The worst of Hogmanay is the massive, disturbing, horrendous firework display. It’s also something artificially staged for tourists because the true traditional custom would be neighbours first footing each other with dods of coal and whisky rather than whooping it up in the city centre. On the plus side, I have no desire to set foot in the centre on Hogmanay so it’s probably the best spot to concentrate tourists.

Mr Irvine, being a recognised travel expert, and especially knowledgeable about other areas of Scotland, says we are not the only victims of over-tourism – though certainly the most obvious.

Even the Outer Hebrides and Orkney suffer from the same curse, while according to him, the Borders and Dumfries and Galloway actually have a lack of visitors. Thus, spreading them out across the whole country might be a good tactic.

Of course, not everywhere has a parliament, a castle and a palace – and the annual Fringe.

That’s one of the toughest problems to solve, especially if locals have to cope with the crowded Royal Mile, having promotional leaflets stuffed in their faces, being forced to navigate their way around eejits on stilts and unicycles, or bypass human pyramids, especially if they are getting to and from work, registering a death or doing something else essential and local.

READ MORE: Brexit the movie? I’d prefer Braveheart II with Nicola Sturgeon – Helen Martin

Pete Irvine seems to me to be the ideal person to properly lead the marketing of Edinburgh. He recognises the major problems Barcelona, Venice and Dubrovnik, let alone Amsterdam and others, are already struggling to solve. He’s not “anti-tourist” but he knows when enough is enough. And unlike the council and current marketeers, he sees the ever-extending seasons of tourism as a negative, rather than a positive strategy.

We have too many hotels, too many Airbnbs, and he adds: “Over-tourism is a recently coined word, but those of us who live with it know what ‘over-tourism’ means.”

As the creator of our Hogmanay celebrations, he knows how to attract visitors – but he also knows how that must be balanced to protect the quality of life for locals.

His expertise, along with that of the Edinburgh World Heritage Trust, should be an essential part of any organisation in charge of marketing Edinburgh. And if public money supports such an organisation, the council should ensure such expertise is involved rather than leaving it in the hands of those who operate as salesmen and hoteliers.

Would Pete Irvine reject such a challenging role? Hope not – but I wouldn’t blame him.

Online polls don’t tell whole story

APPARENTLY, there was a public consultation about changes to the city centre, something not prominently advertised. No questionnaires came with mail such as council tax updates, or just popped through each door to “the occupier”.

Of those who did take part, opinion was almost equally divided in support of pedestrianised streets, but against reducing the number of buses.

Now surely that is logical. The council is building up a car ban with plans to close off streets to drivers both temporarily and permanently.

How then are people who are elderly, even mildly disabled, or with physical limitations so they can’t walk extensively or lug bags of purchases to outlying bus stops, going to enjoy getting into the city centre at all? The demographics involve a growing elderly population . . . and that’s another reason why, if the survey was substantially online, it wasn’t ideally democratic.

Serve up some Ratatouille to calm kids’ fears

THE appearance of rats anywhere is scary. At Victoria Primary School, it’s understandable that parents are furious about rats scampering around the playground since December.

The myth that everyone is only six feet away from a rat has been debunked. In any urban area the distance is more like 164 feet. As rats routinely leave their nests 100 to 300 feet away to hunt for food, it’s sometimes hard to find their source. And if any demolition or construction has gone on nearby, rats will scatter and build a new home somewhere else. Any unsealed sewer is a risk, etc, etc.

In defence of the council’s pest control team, de-ratting isn’t an easy, rapid job for a large building with grounds. Limit the kids’ fears with a screening of cartoon Ratatouille, tell them not to leave any bits of packed lunches around, and trust that the “pesty” team will eventually manage to terminate the vermin.

Look like a real prince, Harry

A four-year-old schoolboy asked touring Prince Harry when the “real” prince was coming. Harry’s open-necked shirt and blue jacket didn’t look the part. Good idea. When royals visit wee kids who can’t possibly recognise them, they should wear a robe or plastic crown.

• This opinion piece originally included a line referring to firms that make money from tourism in Edinburgh. Mentioned specifically - and incorrectly - was Marketing Edinburgh, which operates as a not-for-profit charity organisation.