Robin Worsnop: Why residents must learn to love tourists

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Locals may grumble about tourists getting in the way and asking stupid questions but, argues Robin Worsnop, without them our city would be a far poorer place

Sometimes you hear Edinburgh folk complaining about the tourists clogging up our streets or trying to catch the local buses.

They never have the right change ready or even know which bus they want to catch, and it just makes my journey so much longer, or so the complaint goes.

And then there are the leisurely paced tourists that amble along the street when you are trying to get to a meeting on time or who stop you to ask for directions to Edinburgh Castle.

Then there are those who criticise the city for investing in services for these visitors.

We need to remind ourselves just how important these visitors are in contributing to the wealth of the city and to supporting its cultural vibrancy, which we all enjoy.

The visitor who comes to Edinburgh contributes to the economic viability of so many of the businesses, helping to make them sustainable so that local residents can benefit from them as well. Apart from the core of the industry, such as visitor attractions, hotels, hostels and guest houses, our visitors spend money all across the city. Taxis, buses, trains, shops of all kinds, restaurants and bars all benefit directly. Many would not survive without them. This has an impact beyond the jobs that are created, it also gives residents a greater choice of where to shop, eat and drink.

Without the visitors during the various festivals which we now have all year round, the cultural offering of the city wouldn’t survive. I cannot think of anyone in Edinburgh who doesn’t appreciate how the Christmas market, fun fair park, ice rink and Christmas lights don’t add to our quality of life during December. Without the visitors that these events attract they would not be viable.

And what of other industries that exist in the city and provide jobs and wealth? Law, accountancy, finance and real estate firms all have clients who benefit from visitors’ spending.

The tourism industry in Edinburgh employs 32,000 people in its own right, but its impact goes far beyond those employed within this sector. It underpins much of what Edinburgh folk love about their city. And let’s not forget there is a massive amount of things to love about this city. It is one of the most beautiful in the world and many other cities would love to have what Edinburgh has. It’s why it’s so attractive to our visitors. The World Heritage Old and New Towns put us on a par with Machu Pichu and the Great Wall of China. But we cannot be complacent.

There are many cities throughout the world which are competing to attract visitors and the wealth they bring and we need to be mindful that our reputation lies on delivering exceptional experiences to our visitors. They are our guests and we are their hosts. The power of social media today gives consumers the power to drive more business to different destinations. The quality of the welcome from one and all in the city is an increasingly important part of the authentic experience visitors are looking for. Friendly and welcoming locals are what visitors expect when they come here and every interaction they have will combine to either add or detract from their experience and their likelihood to recommend us to their friends.

You often hear how people get annoyed that they cannot get about the city as easily when we have a huge influx of visitors during the summer festivals, but it’s worth remembering those festivals wouldn’t even take place if the visitors weren’t here.

Beyond all this our visitors add a cosmopolitan flavour to Scotland’s capital city, adding colour and variety to our lives. The increase in direct flights to Edinburgh has been fuelled by visitors coming here, but this has also allowed Edinburgh residents to visit other parts of the world more easily as well. It’s unlikely that the quality of the restaurants in Edinburgh would have improved so much in the last ten years if there hadn’t been the cultural interchange brought by our visitors.

It’s always worth watching how visitors marvel at Edinburgh’s skyline and its beauty and it’s a helpful reminder to us all how beautiful this city is, even if the wind is howling and the rain is horizontal. As residents it’s something we should be extremely proud of.

The visitors make our lives richer in so many ways and it’s in all our interests to welcome them wholeheartedly and ensure they have the best experience so they recommend us to their friends so more of them come back and we can continue to enjoy all the benefits they bring with them.

• Robin Worsnop is chairman of the Edinburgh Tourism Action Group and founder of Rabbie’s Trail Burners.

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• Visitor spending has increased from £250m in 1990 to more than £1 billion per annum in 2010 – the highest tourism spending in any UK city except London.

• Tourism-related employment accounts for approximately 12 per cent of the workforce, having increased from 12,000 to 32,000 employees in the last 20 years.

• Approximately 50 per cent of our leisure tourism consists of repeat visits.