Edinburgh named one of the world's most serious 'overtourism hotspots'

Overnight visitor numbers to Edinburgh have soared by nearly a third in the space of seven years, to 4.26 million.
Overnight visitor numbers to Edinburgh have soared by nearly a third in the space of seven years, to 4.26 million.
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Edinburgh has been named alongside Amsterdam, Rome, Venice and Barcelona as one of the world's worst hotspots for "overtourism".

The Scottish capital has been cited alongside the Taj Mahal, in India, the Peruvian citadel of Machu Picchu, Dubrovnik, in Croatia, and Iceland as famous destinations "that can no longer cope with their own popularity."

A global travel news website has told how some Edinburgh residents "have had enough" of visitors to the city and highlights the plans by the city council to introduce the UK's first tourist tax.

CNN Travel has also cited "the pressure of huge numbers descending on the city centre" in August for the annual Edinburgh Festival season and the growth in the short-term letting market driving up rents for "normal people."

Edinburgh is placed ahead of both Rome and Barcelona in the CNN Travel report, which identifies 13 hotspots under the headline: "Destination trouble."

It was published to coincide with the publication of a report by the World Travel & Tourism Council on tourism growth around the world, which warned there was a growing need for cities seeing increasing numbers of visitors to "balance all the dynamics that make up a city’s fabric."

Its research stated: "Tourism has to be good for tourists and residents alike, and its growth must be organised and well planned."

Edinburgh has been named an overtourism hotspot in the wake of an official report commissioned for its tourism industry warned that the city was running the risk of a "backlash" from residents if it did not take "concerted action" over the growth and impact of the industry.

The city has seen the number of overnight stays soar by almost a third in the space of seven years, to 4.26 million, while the number of day visitors has soared by almost half a million each year over the same period. The research for the Edinburgh Tourism Action Group (ETAG) said "collective intervention" was needed to preserve the fabric and look of historic areas, as well as protect the quality of life for local residents.

The findings in the research are believed to have inspired a new policy on tourism agreed by the city council, which states: "The quality of life for residents and the attractiveness of Edinburgh as a destination are inextricably linked. The one cannot suffer at the expense of the other."

A campaign launched earlier this year to "defend" Edinburgh against over-tourism, property developers and the "festivalisation" of the city - which has threatened to stage protests and "non-violent direct actions" over the impact of the industry - was also cited in the CNN Travel report.

It states: "We first hear about these places when we're kids. Famous destinations full of wondrous architecture, spectacular scenery or ancient mysteries that fire our imaginations and fill us with yearning. We dream, we grow, we save up all our money and one day we finally get to visit -- only to discover that everyone else is visiting at the same time

"Overtourism is fast becoming one of the most hotly debated issues in the modern age of travel. Thanks to cheaper air fares, rising incomes and social media's ability to laser focus attention on specific destinations, more travellers than ever before are descending on places that can no longer cope with their own popularity."

Discussing efforts to handle the overtourism problems in Edinburgh, the report adds: "With numbers swelling during its annual August festivals, the Scottish capital has felt the pressure of huge numbers descending on its city centre.

"In February, the city council voted in favour of introducing a tourist tax of £2 per day per tourist This would be levied against all accommodation, including short term lets via Airbnb, raising up to £14.6 million a year."

Cliff Hague, chair of the Cockburn Association, the city's long-running heritage watchdog, said: "We need to recognise a point that is obvious but ignored - streets, open spaces and housing markets have limited capacity.

"Once that capacity is exceeded problems begin - such as congestion, wear and tear, displacement of people. Damage is being done now and if Edinburgh just chases growth it will get worse."

Adam Wilkinson, director of Edinburgh World Heritage, said: "The new policy recently agreed by the city embraces the key principles of sustainable tourism, especially balancing the needs of residents and visitors and ensuring over the long-term. Edinburgh is only at the beginning of its journey towards a more balanced and sustainable visitor economy."

Mike Small, spokesman for the Citizen campaign, which launched in April, said: "I'm not surprised. The world is waking up to this crisis even if the authorities in Edinburgh are still mired in inertia and denial.

"The problem is urgent and destructive and intimately connected to our obsession with growth and our climate crisis. The situation is intolerable."

A spokeswoman for ETAG said: "Edinburgh has long enjoyed a buoyant tourism industry, with consistent growth in visitor numbers to our vibrant city year on year. This has brought tremendous benefits not only to Edinburgh, but to Scotland as a whole.

"Though tourism here is not on the same scale as major European destinations like Venice and Barcelona, the sector recognises the impact increasing visitor numbers can have on residents and public services and is committed to managing these.

“It is important that we take steps to understand and effectively manage the potential consequences of continued tourism growth on our city.

"We are currently working collectively with partners and stakeholders in our sector to develop a new Edinburgh 2030 strategy that ensures that future growth in Edinburgh balances the needs of residents, businesses and visitors is fundamental to our approach.”

Gordon Robertson, chairman of Marketing Edinburgh, said: "Edinburgh enjoys many economic and cultural benefits from its mature and successful tourism industry.

"This success, however, should continue to be carefully and sensitively managed by the city council and organisations like Marketing Edinburgh in order to take into account the ever-changing needs of local residents, businesses, visitors and the city’s natural and built environment, all in equal measure.

"Like any destination, there is a concentration of visitors to specific areas of the city at certain times of the year, and we have taken – and continue to take – steps to encourage visitor dispersal beyond the city centre.

"With a resident to visitor ratio of 1:8 it is not a fair or accurate comparison to the Taj Mahal’s eight million annual visitors on just a 42-acre site.

"Our city is one that people around the world want to visit - tourism is good for Edinburgh and for the rest of Scotland, and collectively, we do it well."

Festivals Edinburgh director Julia Amour said: "The festivals believe that defining a balance of interests between residents, businesses and visitors will be central to Edinburgh’s continuing success – and we are working in active and constructive partnership with people across Edinburgh to that end."

City council leader Adam McVey said: "While we can feel proud of our world-class status and our city’s ever-growing popularity we’re very aware of the challenges we face. We must also recognise and address the pressure on our core services and on residents. We have a responsibility to manage that impact while promoting the jobs and cultural opportunities that tourism provides.

“We’ve already done a huge amount of work with the Scottish Government to bring in new legislation to protect the vibrant and distinctive character of the city. We’ve led a successful national discussion on a tourist levy and hope to have these powers as soon as possible. We’re also working with the Scottish Government on the introduction of a regulatory system for short term lets to help us deal with the impact this is having on our communities.

“We’re confident with the additional resources of a tourist levy and additional powers to control tourist accommodation, we can ensure the economic and cultural benefits to our city continue for generations to come."

COMMENT

Russell Imrie, Edinburgh Hotels Association

Being named as a global tourism 'hotspot' is both a success and a challenge for a Edinburgh.

Tourism is an engine for economic growth in prime destination cities as it provides employment to locals and revenues to the authorities. It is a growth industry and has been recognised by government as a driver of future economic benefit which resulted in the recent announcement of the tourism sector deal. The challenge for Edinburgh is how we manage our success.

We need controls on the number of short term lets and the number of weeks per year they can be used to ensure an acceptable environment for our permanent residents.

We need better management of our streets to make them pedestrian and cycling friendly.

We need to ensure that our festivals and events are not focused on a limited number of weeks or a limited geographical area of the city.

We need a pause in new hotel development until the new supply in the pipeline is on-stream and its effect on the sustainability of existing hotels is understood.

We should not create hotel supply which satisfies demand in peak months but creates over supply for four months. This affects profitability and the ability to reinvest in quality.

We need a focus on the 'positioning' of Edinburgh as a high quality, aspirational destination.

To do all this needs a subtle shift in focus from all involved in the city’s tourism industry from marketing promotion for growth to marketing management for growth.

The tourism “hotspot” issue is complex and challenging but the ultimate prize if we get it right is a beautiful, successful city where both residents and visitors are in harmony and we become the envy of tomorrow’s global tourism industry.