Kevin Buckle: Edinburgh's eternal hotel conundrum

The arrival of a Virgin Hotel will be a boost for EdinburghThe arrival of a Virgin Hotel will be a boost for Edinburgh
The arrival of a Virgin Hotel will be a boost for Edinburgh
For anybody who works in the city centre in any capacity that deals with visitors, two things are clear '“ nobody would mind at all if a small amount was added to their bill to contribute to maintaining services in the city they have just stayed in and there is definitely room for more high-spending visitors.

Sir Richard Branson appeared to get it half right this week and, whatever you might think of him, there is no doubt his new hotel on Victoria Street will be a benefit to Edinburgh and a signal to others to invest in the city. With the public inquiry not too far away now into the six-star hotel on Calton Hill, it should not be underestimated how, in these uncertain times, a city is judged by these things.

With old Royal High, the argument is often simplified to a basic choice between two camps when actually there are three. There is a small minority who hate the hotel, love that it could become a music school and will accept no other argument.

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There are also a small, much less vocal minority who think the hotel is exactly what is needed and in fact more people than you might think who would love a more space-age building on Calton Hill. This is actually not as daft as it seems as it completely fits the remit of not blending in and overpowering the current building with a similar structure.

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However there is another camp that you never hear from and they are probably the largest group of the three. They think that a six-star hotel as proposed by the developers is exactly what Edinburgh needs but just not in that location. Now while that is not the most supportive view for the hotel it does mean that those who argue there is simply no need for a hotel of that type are very definitely in the minority.

Statisticians among you will have noticed that there may be minorities with interests for and against but what of the majority? Well, the truth of the matter, as with nearly all debates, is the majority just don’t care either way. More people than any of the groups mentioned cannot see what all the fuss is about when they look up to Calton Hill and all their “untrained” eye sees is “a bit of a mess”.

There are valid arguments both for and against the hotel and, in the end, the judgement will need to be what is best on balance, but those against the hotel who simply argue they would rather have a music school don’t help their cause because, given the developer’s contract, that is not an acceptable reason.

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Those who claim it is not economically viable do indeed raise a concern but, given all the recent positive figures for hotels, their case is by no means conclusive while anybody who thinks the design is inappropriate will always have an argument because that is subjective but their opinion is no more valid than those who disagree.

The thing is I’m not sure there is any hotel developer that people actually like or indeed any that don’t do their business in the most tax-efficient way, so each hotel has to be judged on what good it can do for the city, not whether we like those building and running it or not.

Again those who argue on the grounds that the new Virgin Hotel is not good for the local community have a right to raise that point. The difficulty with both the hotels under discussion is that it is their very location that makes them desirable and there is a fine line sometimes between those with genuine concerns and Nimbys.

While the tourist tax is a no-brainer that even those in the hotel industry only oppose because they feel obliged to, the pros and cons of high-end hotels and their visitors’ spending is more complicated, but in the end comes down to how Edinburgh wants to be seen by the outside world.

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Of course, it should not just be assumed that those staying in other hotels, including budget, don’t spend money as some certainly do. Visitors often choose just to spend their money on food and accommodation and little else and attracting more visitors to Edinburgh on shopping trips is something that is needed across all types of hotel.

This brings us back to many previous columns about the quality of Edinburgh’s retail offering, but really with some forward thinking and joining up of dots there is no reason Edinburgh shouldn’t get the hotels it needs while taking into account the views and wishes of locals.

It’s Bake Off but not as you know it

Readers in West Lothian and indeed further afield looking for something to do today should look no further than the West Lothian Highland Games.

“The wonderful and haunting music of pipe bands; the supreme expertise and skill of Highland dancers; the prowess and strength of heavy-event athletes; the sheer endurance of road-race competitors!”

All sounds great but The Great School Bake Off with four of West Lothian’s high schools competing must surely be the highlight.

It’s at Meadow Park, just off Glasgow Road in Bathgate, from 9am today.