Marketing boss says ‘Brexit uncertainty’ costing Edinburgh money

Marketing Edinburgh chief John Donnelly. Picture: Jon Savage
Marketing Edinburgh chief John Donnelly. Picture: Jon Savage
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The man responsible for promoting Edinburgh to the world has warned councillors that uncertainty over Brexit and over-subscribed hotels has seen the Capital miss out on revenue.

John Donnelly, chief executive of Marketing Edinburgh, also told the council’s housing and economy committee the existing model of tourism investment was “unsustainable” as the authority investigates introducing a tax on visitors.

Mr Donnelly informed councillors that Edinburgh’s high hotel occupancy rate led to the city missing out on multi-million-pound conferences.

He said: “We book accommodation for delegates who come to conferences across the city.

“Edinburgh has got the highest occupancy level of any city in Europe now. It’s over 83 per cent across the year. In July and August, it’s running at 95 or even 98 per cent, so you’ve taken out two months of the year that you can’t hold a conference.”

Mr Donnelly also suggested there was evidence that Airbnb accommodation was being used more commonly by conference delegates across Europe.

He added: “There’s a number of different reasons why we lose conferences.

“Brexit has hit and has damaged. In the world of conferences, when you’re trying to bring over 1,000 medics from Washington or life sciences from Milan, they don’t know what country they are going to come to, they don’t know what the country is going to be like.

“Uncertainty gives people an opportunity to say no or delay a decision and we’ve lost conferences on the back of that.”

Mr Donnelly was quizzed by councillors about whether he would welcome plans to introduce a transient visitor levy, also known as a tourist or bed tax. He labelled the work the city council was undertaking in investigating any tourist tax as “first class”.

The council claims a £1 charge per person per night could tally up more than £11 million of extra funding a year.

He said: “In a situation of declining local authority income, an increased demand on public services by both visitors and residents, it’s unsustainable to continue the investment in tourism as it currently stands.

“If we want to maintain Edinburgh’s standard as a premium city, something has to give. We are not advocating any particular tax, but nothing should be taken off the table until there’s proper and informed debate.”

Mr Donnelly said that Marketing Edinburgh was set to launch a study into whether a tourism levy would be welcomed.

He said: “No-one knows if more or less people would come if any form of bed tax is introduced.

“We are commissioning a proper, thorough, robust piece of research with tourists and residents to get their view on potential levies.

“If it’s not harmonious between residents, businesses and visitors, the city’s soul gets pulled in one direction or another.”

Mr Donnelly also highlighted that a proposed film studio could help the city capitalise on revenue sustained following filming on The Avengers: Infinity War in the city.

Last year, planning permission was granted by Scottish ministers for a purpose-built film and television studio to be built in Midlothian.