David Birrell: Investment vital to Edinburgh’s tourism prospects

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Investment is vital to keep Edinburgh a world-class destination, writes David Birrell

THE start of British Summertime signals the onset of a new tourist season and an increase in visitors attracted to Edinburgh. As visitor numbers rise to over four million a year, generating £1.3 billion to the local economy, tourism continues to be a key driver for economic growth, attracting investments and creating new jobs.

While many visitors come to Edinburgh for the culture and to take in the atmosphere, over two thirds are drawn to its historic past. It is a key driver of tourism and of Scotland’s international reputation. It’s no surprise that Edinburgh Castle is Scotland’s number one visitor attraction – a great example of how we can celebrate the richness and significance of the many heritage assets in a modern city.

Edinburgh’s World Heritage status is testimony to the progress we have made in preserving our past. With over 50 million Scottish diaspora around the world, in North America and Australia in particular, our heritage and Clan history can draw huge numbers of visitors. Existing cultural projects, such as the Edinburgh Military Tattoo International Tour, are great ways to reach out to a global audience.

Part of future-proofing the tourism sector also demands continued investment in areas such as accommodation and digital connectivity. For example, Edinburgh has recently been ranked in a top-ten listing of hotel development “hot spots” across the UK, and the new St James development will be a great attraction in the future. It’s also the most popular UK city after London for hosting international association meetings.

Transport links are the lifeblood of any tourism destination and we should be proud of our ability to offer a quality service. This pays dividends in attracting both new and recurring visitors. We are already enjoying the benefits of unprecedented levels of investments in our airport, our rail infrastructure and our ports. This is expected to continue with air passenger numbers and cruise ship visits hitting record numbers.

Edinburgh’s ability to act as a “hub” for travellers is key. Often a first stop for tourists, it is considered a gateway to other cities across the country. The Ryder Cup was a perfect example of this, with thousands of spectators travelling from Edinburgh via road and rail to Gleneagles.

It’s not difficult to understand why many other cities aspire to be like Edinburgh, however we should not be complacent and instead use recent successes to inspire growth as competition from other international and UK cities intensifies. Building on our reputation as the best festival city in the world, we must continue to work together across all sectors to remain a world class destination.

• David Birrell is chief executive of Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce