'They give us a bad name': Edinburgh silent disco chief hits out at Fringe tour operators
A silent disco operator has spoken out against the bad reputation Fringe tours give his trade, after a video of a group dancing round a homeless man was shared on social media.
Jay Feeney, co-founder of Silent Adventures, the only operator to run silent disco tours year-round in the city, said he is fed up with the poor safety and standards of a number of seasonal tour groups.
These companies, which have poorly-planned routes and under-trained staff, swoop into the city for the Fringe and then disappear, Mr Feeney said, leaving locals’ anger and complaints behind.
Earlier this year there were calls from the Edinburgh Old Town Association and Old Town Community Council to crack down on silent disco tours as they are ‘hazard’ to pedestrians and passing traffic.
However the council said it is unable to control the tours, as due to a loophole in the law they don’t need a street trading license if all tickets are sold online.
Feeney claims these complaints are caused by silent disco operators which run during the Fringe, and that the blame is wrongly put on his company.
“We feel like we’re put in the firing line and it’s just not justified,” he said. “It’s infuriating to read news stories about silent discos having no respect, because in our case that just isn’t true.”
Feeney insists his tours operate differently to the others. While their routes run through the most highly-congested areas of the city centre during the Fringe, the Silent Adventures route follows a mostly pedestrianised route from Bristo Square to the Meadows and back.
During the rest of the year Silent Adventures operate a route up the Royal Mile, down the Mound, through Princes Street Gardens and up Cockburn Street.
“In the right areas it works really well,” Feeney said, “but not in the wrong areas. It doesn’t work if you’re forcing people into the street, or if your staff aren’t trained properly.”
Responsibility for changing the situation may lie with the Fringe Society, not the Council, Feeney believes.
“A licence is one way of dealing with it, but if that doesn’t happen the Fringe need to take responsibility, and they need to ban anyone acting irresponsibly from their programme,” he added.
“I know the other operators, I think if there was a code of conduct set by the Fringe they would abide by it.”
Feeney believes Guru Dudu, the tour operator filmed dancing round a homeless man in August 2018, did so out of ignorance rather than malice.
“I totally believe Guru Dudu was sincere, when you do these things you’re focussed on the group and on what you’re doing. His staff should have noticed it but I don’t think it was deliberate.
“That said, it didn’t look great, and I would be ashamed to have been videoed like that.”
With the right code of conduct in place, Feeney insists that silent disco tours are a huge positive for the city, bringing joy, mental health benefits and family-friendly fun.
“We’re not just there to eke money out of tourists and not care about the aftermath of tours,” he said.
“I think it’s great for the city, it just needs to be controlled better during the Fringe.”