George Lowder: How Edinburgh can cope with its increasing popularity
Wayfinding can help tourists move out from Edinburgh's city centre to discover other attractions, says Transport for Edinburgh chief George Lowder.
The impassioned debate on how Edinburgh should manage its growing popularity as a visitor destination has never been so high on the news agenda.
For better or worse, much has been said about the city’s tourism ambitions. Some favour the benefits tourism brings while others have concerns about its long-term impact on its World Heritage status, but one thing is clear: this is a crucial discussion that must continue between those working in the sector, residents and local businesses.
One charge I would strongly challenge, however, is that Edinburgh’s tourism leaders and the City of Edinburgh Council (CEC) are blindly ploughing on, putting profit ahead of future planning and conservation of Edinburgh’s unique character. Since 2012, the city has been committed to implementing the comprehensive Edinburgh 2020 Tourism Strategy. Advocating and implementing a whole range of measures, this strategy aims to ensure the city maintains a balance between visitors and locals, while enabling managed growth of our tourism sector. A key element of this strategy – and one of which I am a particular advocate – is the city’s commitment to ‘Wayfinding’. Edinburgh’s tourism and heritage experts agree that the dispersal of visitors beyond the hotspots of locations like the Royal Mile, particularly during peak times like festivals, is crucial to ensure Edinburgh’s future growth is sustainable. Wayfinding is one effective solution, encouraging greater movement around the capital by visitors, giving people the knowledge and confidence to explore the rich and diverse offering of Edinburgh’s multiple, vibrant neighbourhoods – something that New York, for example, has done exceptionally well in promoting its ‘Five Boroughs’.
Over the past year, key partners – Transport for Edinburgh, CEC, Edinburgh Tourism Action Group (ETAG) and Marketing Edinburgh – have been exploring a possible Wayfinding system for the city. The ambition is to create a number of mapping products including digital resources, printed products and on-street maps and signage, all of which designed to be freely open-source and available for organisations and businesses to use, creating a unified representation of the city.
In considering the opportunities, we have looked at the whole visitor experience, and hope to make it easier to plan journeys in advance with new online resources and to explore from the streets.
Encouraging visitors to venture beyond the city centre spreads the benefits of tourism to even more businesses and attractions, and inspires longer stays and repeat visits. Also, by making it easier to explore the whole city, we relieve pressure from busier parts of town. Through the design of this new system, we can open up all that Edinburgh has to offer, and remind residents and visitors that Edinburgh is a truly connected city, endlessly walkable, with an integrated transport system that is easy to use.
Additionally, by facilitating a more streamlined travel network, we are developing greener and active travel options for residents – walking, cycling, and public transport options become more accessible when we simplify information across transport modes and the local environment.
With testing of the new Wayfinding system planned for summer 2018, this is an incredibly exciting project that brings only benefits for Edinburgh. However, to deliver this project and ensure its longevity, we do need businesses and organisations to get behind the project and help fund its future success. I’ll be updating on progress of the Wayfinding project at the ETAG conference tomorrow. Themed ‘Managing Success’ and open to everyone working in the tourism sector, the conference will be discussing the key issues arising from Edinburgh’s ongoing success as a visitor destination. The programme ranges from international speakers, including Amsterdam Marketing, providing insight into how the city is addressing its challenges, to revealing the results of a Scottish Government and Scottish Tourism Alliance report into the impact of the collaborative economy in Scotland, through the rise of services such as Airbnb and Uber. This year’s conference has never been so relevant.
I passionately believe that Edinburgh can both grow its tourism industry and conserve its heritage for the benefit of all. But a collaborative approach and open dialogue between the public and private sector is essential to ensure balance is maintained. Supporting innovative projects such as Edinburgh’s Wayfinding initiative is an excellent start.