Edinburgh’s former Lord Provost Donald Wilson is no stranger to the city’s festivals and events as he officiated at many of them as Edinburgh’s ‘first citizen’, so he will welcome the two reports to be presented to his committee on Thursday.
In his current role as the convener of the culture and communities committee, he will oversee the agenda items which deal with “tourism in Edinburgh” and “managing our festival city”.
Both reports detail the successful record of the city’s cultural offering and the ever increasing number of tourists who flock to Edinburgh throughout the year, while acknowledging that such a volume of visitor numbers will have to be carefully managed if similar issues that have arisen in some cities on the continent are to be avoided.
It recognises that tourism is an important contributor to the city economy, generating £1.4 billion in annual visitor spend and supporting the provision of 34,800 jobs after an 18 per cent increase in visitor numbers and a 30 per cent increase in spend over the five-year period between 2010-15. Such success brings its own challenges and this will be the focus of attention. The strategy aims to “increase the value of tourism to the city” as well as to “enhance the city’s image and reputation” in an effort to “strengthen perceptions nationally and internationally of Edinburgh as an outstanding city – truly a world class city – in which to live, work, study and invest, as well as visit”. These are lofty but no less laudable aims for all that and should receive a favourable response from all political parties within the City Chambers.
Edinburgh attracts 4.1 million visitors a year with numbers on the rise and, although the city would never be able to cope the likes of the visitor numbers experienced by Venice (30 million), Barcelona (32 million) or Amsterdam (16 million), with the correct management strategy in place, supported by local partners and stakeholders, there is no reason why Edinburgh cannot attract even greater visitor numbers and boost its sustainable economy even further with the welcome addition of a greater number of employment opportunities in the city. However this comes at a price and the impact on residents of the city will have to be carefully managed and monitored with lessons being learned from the experiences of the cities mentioned above.
One of the main contributing factors to Edinburgh’s attractiveness is the quality and diversity of the festivals and events that are on offer throughout the year, which brings me to the second report to be presented to Donald’s committee. This one provides an in-depth analysis of the performance (no pun intended) of the festivals, their impact on visitor numbers and their effect on the local economy. Information provided by Edinburgh’s People Survey indicates that 79.7 per cent of residents city-wide and 82.5 per cent of city centre residents agreed with the statement that Edinburgh’s festivals “make the city a better place to live” and the most recent visitor satisfaction data available reports that 80 per cent of visitors found the people of Edinburgh ”very welcoming”, which clearly indicates the firm base from which the city needs to build on.
Of the 11 major festivals held annually in Edinburgh a cursory glance at a few of them demonstrates, unequivocally, their worth to the city. If not for their cultural offering, which should be paramount, their contribution to attracting visitors cannot be understated. Last year attendance at Fringe shows attracted an estimated audience of nearly 2.7 million with just over 22 per cent coming from Edinburgh; the International Festival boasted audience figures of 187,083 at ticketed events and an additional estimated 274,800 at non ticketed with 40 per cent coming from Edinburgh and last, but not least, The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo comes in with an audience breakdown of 220,000, three per cent of whom came from Edinburgh, 15 per cent from the rest of Scotland, 31 per cent from the rest of the UK and the rest, 51 per cent, from the rest of the world!
So what’s not to like? People would give their eye teeth to live in a city that promotes such a wide repertoire of internationally renowned festivals to say nothing of the city’s Christmas and Hogmanay celebrations which are second to none.
Edinburgh is a wonderful city and the fact that so many people want to come here should be a cause for celebration, not despair! There will always be detractors, the naysayers of this world, but thankfully their numbers are on the wane while the festival and events numbers are “on the up and up” – long may it continue!