Increased footfall brings added hope for Princes Street - Kevin Buckle

​​Positive news this week from Essential Edinburgh, the Business Improvement District (BID) that looks after the city centre and the Edinburgh Hotels Association, with initial reports showing increased footfall and trading and hotels improved occupancy.
Shoppers are returning to Princes StreetShoppers are returning to Princes Street
Shoppers are returning to Princes Street

I was particularly interested in the city centre footfall figures this year, given the obvious increase in footfall in the Waverley Market. Interestingly the first week of December is described as being a poor start because of the weather conditions when it was actually very promising in the centre I imagine because people were wanting to shop in the warmth.

The two weeks leading up to Christmas saw footfall on Princes Street significantly ahead of December 2019, increasing by 9.5 per cent, and it was also up 15.4 per cent compared to 2022.

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While there are not any exact figures for the centre, I suspect it performed even better than Princes Street.

Overall for December footfall on Princes Street only increased very slightly on 2022 in line with UK figures but the Scottish high street performed a little worse, dropping by 2.1 per cent.

There are still no firm figures for sales yet and increased footfall does not always translate to increased sales, but from what I have heard so far most businesses did see an increase. Certainly I can say that Avalanche saw an 8 per cent increase in December sales which I was very happy with.

Comparison with 2019 is not so good for the Scottish high street, down 16.5 per cent and the UK figure is not too much better being down 11.4 per cent. However Princes Street did much better, only down 2.9 per cent.

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Roddy Smith, chief executive of Essential Edinburgh said: “The figures show the positive impact of year-round tourism for the city and the important contribution to our economic well-being it makes. We continue to play it down at our peril and we over-tax it at our peril.”

While I agree on the importance of tourism to Edinburgh, if Roddy’s final comment refers to the proposed tourist tax I do think that the introduction of a tax would have little impact on whether people choose to visit the city.

Hotel occupancy was at a high of 92.5 per cent on New Year’s Eve which is maybe not a great surprise, though it is up 20 per cent on last year and is even more impressive given the extra availability there is now due to the new hotels that have opened. The increased capacity for the Street Party is being given some of the credit though interestingly there has been no mention of the Christmas Market as an attraction.

Unfortunately while the footfall on Princes Street is promising, the street itself is still deteriorating and I think 2024 will be an important year in which hopefully the new plans for London’s Oxford Street inspire similar thoughts for Princes Street.

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One bonus after New Year was that with the schools not back until 8 January there were strong visitor figures right up to January 6, which was also the day the Christmas Market closed, meaning four good days trading for those of us that reopened on the third.

With so much cold weather forecast in the coming months I am glad to be based in a warm shopping centre.

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