David Birrell: Tourism of Capital importance

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Festival season is eagerly anticipated by Edinburgh residents – the atmosphere in the Capital is vibrant and positive with modern culture and the arts merging seamlessly with centuries of history and tradition. It’s a great place to live during the summer.

The single largest contributing factor to the creation of that fantastic atmosphere are tourists, with visitors to our city now exceeding 3.5 million per year. Businesses thrive because of the increasing numbers of tourists we welcome here. Overseas visitors now exceed half a million each year and this is expected to increase as we benefit from increased global marketing activity and transport connectivity reaching out like never before.

The city can have an impact right across Scotland, too. Any thriving capital should play this role: while tourists start or end their visit with us in Edinburgh, we want them to extend their trip and see all of Scotland. One in five people visiting Edinburgh for the first time also explore other areas of Scotland.

That’s why Edinburgh must continue to invest in its status as a worldwide destination city. Tourism plays a crucial role in our success.

Infrastructure is what businesses here need. Our city has to be future fit whilst also preserving our historic past. Visitors want to navigate our streets easily; to connect to transport links without fuss; to have strong mobile connectivity so they can share their experiences and communicate on the go; to stay in conveniently positioned hotels; to splash out in the best shops.

There are some major investment plans in place for Edinburgh, including increasing the supply of hotels here, which already enjoy over 12 million overnight stays per year. The Queensferry Crossing will ease traffic congestion and attract visitors from Fife, Tayside and the North East; the redevelopment of the St James Centre will transform the East End with new hotel rooms and a refreshed retail offer; and the Borders Railway will soon be connecting the Capital to the Borders and attracting tourists.

However, one of our biggest infrastructure challenges is one most people won’t see, but will definitely feel. Edinburgh still suffers from patchy mobile connectivity, lagging some way behind some of the most popular tourism destinations in the world. This a priority area for the Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce’s Inspiring Visitor Group as we continue to facilitate closer engagement between service providers and the wider tourism business community.

Our festivals are a fantastic example of the best of Edinburgh. If we want to continue to support such globally renowned events, investing in infrastructure is vital.

David Birrell is chief executive of Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce