WE have just booked a week’s holiday to Poland. Krakow to be precise. It is known for being a place of history, but with all the modern trappings a city tourist seeks. It has magnificent scenery and culture, and there are interesting places to visit such as the salt mines and – for those who can bear it – Auschwitz, the Nazi concentration camp.
It is also relatively cheap for a British tourist to visit, with plenty of shopping, restaurants and other opportunities to spend a zloty.
It is, however, a favourite destination for stag and hen dos, which is why we had to select our accommodation very carefully – away from, but within walking distance of, the main square.
At our age we rather like the notion of sleeping at night. I know that sounds like throwing in the towel but it’s better than throwing up one’s kebab.
Feel free to call us old-fashioned but if we go anywhere on holiday, it’s nice to be able to feel that we are abroad. After all, we can see crowds of Geordie, Weegie and Embra girls in pink and silver cowboy hats, necking bottles of beer or cider and falling off their shoes any day of the week here at home. At least stag parties sometimes have the decency to retire, staggering, into a lap-dancing bar and off the street.
So I can understand the businesses, not to mention the residents, of the Grassmarket wanting to repel stags and hens and go for the family-couple market instead.
I would be lying if I didn’t admit girls and boys have always celebrated the last days of singledom en masse with plenty of bevvy and a few smutty jokes. But we were never quite so “in your face” and loud as today’s stags and hens. Gifts of tiny knickers or suggestively shaped chocolates were tame in comparison with the last lot I witnessed, shouting and singing up Lothian Road, showing their pants under their naughty nurses’ outfits and waving whirling vibrators at passing cars.
The ladette culture is fine and well when they are behind closed doors or whooping it up somewhere appropriate – a male-stripper show, for example. But even two well-fuelled, meandering “parties” can turn a whole street into a no-go area for people in search of a little more peace or sophistication.
They are not scary, violent or intimidating, they are just a bloody nuisance and one that ruins the place for others.
For pubs and restaurants in particular, that’s a real dilemma. Stags and hens bring in hordes of young people with robust livers who spend and drink vast amounts. It’s a good business model, but not very classy and a bit limiting if you have more sophisticated ambitions.
And as long as the stags and hens are there, that’s all you’ll get. But how can you really be sure that when you’ve told them they are not welcome and chased them away, anyone else will come in their place?
Everyone’s following the money in a recession, and stags and hens are a gravy train if you operate a budget pricing system. They are not daft. They do the research. The way to get rid of them is startlingly simple – put the prices way up. Then sit on your hands for a few months while the rest of the world discovers the coast is clear and you are now a class act . . . if you haven’t gone out of business in the meantime.
The other concern is the Grassmarketeers’ apparent belief that tourists, couples and families would flood in and in any way match their current takings, let alone exceed them. Yes, stags and hens like cheap prices but they make up for that in volume. Young couples and families are tighter with their money than ever – they have to be.
Older couples whose chicks have flown, whose mortgage is paid and who have disposable income are also cannier. If they splash out it tends to be less often and at the upper end of the market. They are the generation who can cook middle-market restaurant fare themselves, at half the price. That’s why middle-market restaurants and food-serving pubs (which includes most of those on the Grassmarket) comprise the hardest-hit sector in the business. The grey pound is at work.
It’s doubtful that the “outdoor art installations” and “street events” the local businesses hope to stage will encourage folk to spend much more than ice-creams all round, a burger tea, or coffee and cake.
As for tourists to Auld Reekie spending money, why should they be any different from us – looking for somewhere with history, interest and culture, but above all where they don’t have to spend very much?
The Capital is what it is and perhaps in richer times things would have been different. I wish the Grassmarket well and sympathise especially with residents, but in the midst of an economic crisis with pubs closing hand over fist and Edinburgh prices already much higher than many other European cities, it hardly seems the time to be turning any lucrative business away.