Manuela Calchini: A year to savour, lots to look forward to

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AS 2015 draws to a close, the year has certainly left us with plenty of food for thought – due in no small part to the past 12 months celebrating Edinburgh’s creative culinary scene.

Some thought it would be hard to surpass last year’s momentous Homecoming Scotland, but the Year of Food and Drink proved to be the recipe for success we hoped it would be with plenty to shout about in the city.

Food and drink is hugely important for the visitor economy – generating more than £2.5 million per day – and the Capital is no exception, with this year shining a spotlight on our rich eating experiences, including links with the city’s past through the Edinburgh Food Heritage Trail. It was no surprise that Edinburgh was voted City of the Year at the Food & Travel Magazine Awards, beating the likes of New York and London.

It was apt, too, that Edinburgh again featured prominently in 
VisitScotland’s Taste Our Best scheme, with The Royal Exchange Coffee House, part of the city’s own five-star attraction The Real Mary King’s Close, becoming the 1000th establishment to be accredited for its promotion of quality Scottish produce.

But this year it wasn’t just the food and drink that satisfied our hunger. The first half of the year revealed some figures to savour and confirmed what we already knew – the city continues to be hugely popular with visitors from the UK and beyond. In the first six months, there were 1.13 million UK tourism trips to Scotland’s capital, a 19 per cent increase on the same period last year, which amounted to £274m in tourism spend. Our festivals were once again wonderfully popular, from the Mad Hatters Tea Party at the Edinburgh International Science Festival to The Encounter at the Edinburgh International Festival, while the Fringe sold more than 2.2 million tickets.

This is fantastic news and something to build on as we look towards 2016 – the Year of Innovation, Architecture and Design – during which Edinburgh will play its part.

From the Festival of Architecture’s Pop-up World Cities Expo, which will take place in Mound Square early next summer with 14 cities from across the world invited to design pavilions, to the National Museum of Scotland launching ten new galleries and hosting a Lego exhibition, there is plenty to look forward to.

I’ll leave you not with my words but with those of this year’s festival visitors, including international best-selling author Kate Mosse, whom we asked to describe what was best about our dynamic and historic city. She wrote that it’s the “different histories, stories, links between past and present, hidden secrets on every street corner” that make Edinburgh unique.

Multi-award winning Australian stand-up comedian, Felicity Ward, added that it’s “when you forget the sky can go blue, and then it does and then Arthur’s Seat winks at you like, ‘You can’t stay mad at me. I’m beautiful’”. With others describing the city as “magnificent”, “breath-taking” and “enchanting”, I couldn’t agree more.

Manuela Calchini is VisitScotland’s regional director for Edinburgh and the Lothians