The growth of tourism in Edinburgh is being held back by a lack of ambition, too much complacency and claims that the city is has become over-run by visitors, industry leaders have been warned.
The city’s main marketing body has admitted the tourism sector is “under-rated and can be unloved” - months after heritage chiefs called for action to halt the “commercial exploitation” of its history.
But Marketing Edinburgh has also declared that the city cannot afford to give the impression that it is “full” and wants to “turn away visitors.”
Speaking at a reception in Edinburgh Castle, chairman Gordon Robertson suggested that ambition had become “a dirty word” has he called for the city’s tourism sector to be “properly resourced, properly funded, properly understood and properly celebrated.”
Edinburgh’s tourism industry supports around 30,000 jobs. The city has seen visitor numbers soar by more than half a million in the past five years to 3.85 million.
However it is pursuing a target of boosting visitor numbers by a further third by 2010 and generate an additional £485 million.
The soaring visitor numbers sparked controversy in the summer when Edinburgh World Heritage officials said the city was at risk of becoming a “hollow museum shell” like Venice if it did not “seek to understand the capacity limits of our fragile, historic city.”
It said at the time: “Record increases in numbers and are near capacity, while Old Town residents are under increasing pressure from the visitor economy.”
The Cockburn Association has warned the city has become “dysfunctional” during peak periods because so many people are flooding in.
However Mr Robertson, director of communications at Edinburgh Airport, insisted tourism was “a major force for good” for Edinburgh and urged the industry not to rest on its laurels.
He said: “Why should we curb our ambition? Why should we cap our success? We know that Edinburgh can go further and that we can generate more wealth, more investment, more inclusion, more jobs, more inclusion, more opportunity, more connectivity, more success.
“It’s not just us saying that. When we go out around the world selling Edinburgh to countries and airlines the demand is there. That doesn’t come without challenges.
We must balance the growth and benefits with the need to protect the very fabric and spirit of what is behind the success that we have.”
Terry Levinthal, director of the Cockburn Association, said: “Tourism is a crucially important industry for the city. But the point is how it is managed, or rather how it has not been managed, which is now manifesting itself in a range of issues for those who live and work in the city.
“It’s telling what whenever you look at any research into why people visit Edinburgh the two top reasons are its historic architecture and townscape.”