Roddy Smith: Edinburgh city centre reaps dividends from festivals

Roddy Smith is chief executive of Essential Edinburgh
Roddy Smith is chief executive of Essential Edinburgh
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That great American inventor and businessman, Thomas Edison, had a saying that should be pinned to the wall-planners of event managers everywhere: “Good fortune is what happens when opportunity meets with planning.”

The man who held more than 1000 patents in his name was no stranger to success – and he knew that it was down to a lot more than luck!

That’s why we need to understand, appreciate, and act upon the fact that Edinburgh’s success as a city that attracts visitors from home and abroad in their millions owes much to the Capital’s fantastic calendar of events. The Edinburgh International Festival, the Fringe, Edinburgh’s Christmas, Edinburgh’s Hogmanay, the film, book, jazz and TV festivals amongst others, have all earned our global reputation as the world’s leading Festival city.

Essential Edinburgh, which runs the city centre’s successful Business Improvement District, has long realised the vital importance all of these events play in driving footfall and opportunities for our businesses, and that is why we have worked hard and planned hard to build secure partnerships with many of the festivals to ensure the BID area features significantly.

Our businesses have left us in no doubt that continuing to support these major events, which bring people into the area, remains a high priority for us as we face our five-yearly renewal ballot over the coming months.

Where once Edinburgh’s Christmas had no presence within the BID area, we are now the a key part of its programme; where once the Fringe drew visitors well south of our area, the city centre is now an attractive and busy hub for the Fringe. Our partnership approach has paid real dividends.

Our partnership with the Film Festival to produce Film Fest in the City, will continue – transforming St Andrew Square Garden into a free entry outdoor cinema and bringing around 20,000 moviegoers into our area. Street of Light, Georgian Shadows, Red Red Rose Street, Bloom – all events we have developed through partnerships and support

It’s also why we have developed our own programme of complementary events, to run in the quieter shoulder months, to help drive footfall at times of the year that might otherwise be quieter. In one year alone, our own events created more than £5.4 million in economic benefit in the BID area.

Our Farmers’ Market is a major footfall generator. Over the past five years, almost one million visitors each year have been drawn in by the market, just outside our area in Castle Terrace, and around half of these visitors go on to visit the BID area and spend money there, giving an economic benefit over the five-year term of £19m. All of that effort and planning and partnership has resulted in real success. It has seen our city centre outperform the UK footfall averages consistently over the past five years, up 5.2 per cent, smashing our target of two oper cent, and that means more people visiting and more money being spent.

Of course, in planning to maintain and develop the city centre’s role in the Capital’s hectic and innovative events calendar, we should be cognisant of the important role our public spaces play, balancing that with the need to maintain the quality of spaces for our citizens all year around. We have worked closely with the council to develop a workable public spaces protocol for the city and look forward in the next five years to ensure the activity in our city centre is befitting the space and of benefit to our businesses.

We have worked hard with, local businesses, the council and others on developing George Street as activated spaces, working with the Edinburgh International Book Festival in the West End of George Street and we are also keen to become more involved in the activation of public space in Castle Street.

Roddy Smith is chief executive of Essential Edinburgh, the company which runs the city centre’s Business Improvement District