Steve Cardownie: Busted – the myth Edinburgh doesn’t like festivals

Edinburgh can learn lessons from the likes of Barcelona on how to cope with huge crowds of tourists. Picture: Getty
Edinburgh can learn lessons from the likes of Barcelona on how to cope with huge crowds of tourists. Picture: Getty
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The publication of the research into who buys tickets for Edinburgh’s festivals surely lays to rest the accusation made by their detractors “that the people of Edinburgh do not attend festival performances”.

The evidence shows that between 40 and 70 per cent of tickets are sold within Edinburgh, clearly demonstrating that local people welcome and grasp the opportunity to engage with the cultural extravaganza on offer. Year after year, we hear the same complaint from some that the festivals attract too many people, meaning Edinburgh is bursting at the seams with visitors which makes everyday life in the city intolerable.

Whilst it has been recognised for some time that parts of the Old Town and Princes Street in particular do attract a disproportionate amount visitors, the city council, with its partners in the industry are looking at ways to address matters, but this is a question of adequate control and management, not one of whether or not the festivals should be curtailed in some way.

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This city has a lot to offer visitors outwith the Royal Mile etc and ways must be found to attract people away from the city centre.

Additional marketing promotions of other aspects of the city might be undertaken, highlighting areas like Queensferry, Cramond, Lauriston Castle, The Port of Leith (not just the pub), Holyrood Park, Duddingston, Craigmillar Castle and Portobello to name but a few.

This in itself would not solve the problem of an occasionally crowded city centre but it would at least make a contribution.

There are ample examples of cities that have similar issues that we can learn from like Amsterdam, Barcelona, Venice etc and no doubt these are being looked at as part of the management process. Given that the people of the city have demonstrated their support for the festivals by buying tickets, a positive outlook will no doubt be maintained by those charged with identifying a solution.

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The city council has adopted an understanding attitude throughout the years and, as a former Festival and Events Champion, I welcomed the cross-party support that the festivals enjoyed. Councillors are well aware of the economic benefits that the festivals bring and the number of jobs they provide and are not likely to embrace any policy that may jeopardise their continuing success. Attracting 4.1 million visitors a year, boosting the economy by £1.4 billion and supporting the provision of 34,800 jobs is not to be sniffed at and the economic justification in itself is a powerful argument.

However we must not lose sight of the fact that Edinburgh is renowned throughout the world as the premier festival city which hosts the largest arts festival on the planet and that is an accolade that any city would envy!