Royal Military Tattoo sales hit by ‘negative’ debate on over-tourism

Organisers of the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo have blamed economic uncertainty and negative publicity about the city’s tourist industry for a slowdown in ticket sales.

Saturday, 3rd August 2019, 7:00 am

Brigadier David Allfrey, chief executive and producer of the event, which opened last night, said a pricing review would be launched in the autumn after a dip in sales compared to the previous year.

Just three performances in this year’s run – all on Saturday evenings – have sold out in advance, with many of the unsold tickets costing between £130 and £330, and only available as part of hospitality packages.

Brigadier Allfrey said: “I think the pace of ticket sales have something to do with the media coverage around this city over the last 12 months. There has been a lot of chat about the pressures on Edinburgh. I don’t think the negative publicity around Edinburgh this year has been helpful to anybody.

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The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo 2019, Edinburgh Castle Esplanade. Pic - Greg Macvean

“I think the brand of Edinburgh has been given an unhelpful nudge. Everybody who lives and works in this extraordinary city has a responsibility. Whoever you are, whatever you do, or whatever organisation you work for, you have to present your brand in a positive light. The world is very competitive.

“If someone looks at Edinburgh and says: ‘Gosh, that’s a place that has got its challenges at the moment’ they might well go somewhere else.”

Brigadier Allfrey said ticket prices would be brought down for next year’s event “if the situation demanded it” but insisted he was confident this year’s show would still sell-out its three-week run.

He said that the event was suffering from a long-standing perception that it was impossible to get a ticket in August.

Organisers of the Fringe and International Festival, which are also both now under way, say their ticket sales are in line with previous years.

The city council has drawn up plans to introduce the UK’s first tourist tax, which would a £2-a-night charge added to visitors’ hotel bills, although the authority is not expected to get the power granted by the Scottish Government for another two years.

An official report on Edinburgh’s tourism industry, published this year, said “concerted action” was needed to extend its footprint because areas like Princes Street, the Royal Mile and North Bridge were too over-crowded during peak periods.

Tickets for the Tattoo go on sale in December, with prices starting at £25. The cheapest tickets available on the official website are £90.

Brigadier Allfrey said: “Our ticket sales are a bit slower than they were at this time last year, to be honest. I don’t really want to quantify it.

“We are watching it every day. I think just people are a bit cautious at the moment. We’re watching our money at the moment.

“There are a lot of decisions in the minds of people about where they go on holiday. There is a bit of uncertainty around and the question of whether people are travelling as much.

“The whole entertainment business has to be priced correctly. This is a family show. We’ve got to deliberately keep the ticket price very competitive. There are some seats which are quite expensive and get packaged up with a wonderful dinner.

“We’ve got to pay for the show. It’s not inexpensive to put on and the costs go up every day. If the situation demands it we will bring the prices down next year.”

He added: “We are very analytical about it. We listen to our audience. It’s a very conservatively priced show at the moment. But we respond to everything.

“Our world is changing by the second. We’d be a very foolish organisation if we didn’t respond to that.”

Last month Edinburgh was named one of the world’s most serious overtourism “hotspots,” alongside Amsterdam, Rome, Venice and Barcelona. It was also ranked alongside the Taj Mahal and Machu Picchu as famous destinations “that can no longer cope with their own popularity”.

City council officials have approved safety measures around the Old Town this month, including day-time closures of the Lawnmarket, Victoria Street and Cockburn Street.