SCOTLAND’S national tourism body may fork out refunds over the running of its controversial Bannockburn Live festival following a spate of protests about lengthy queues at the event.
VisitScotland has pledged to investigate all complaints on a “case by case” basis in the wake of problems at both days of the £650,000 festival, a centrepiece of the Scottish Government’s Year of Homecoming campaign.
It is understood hundreds of people who attended the event may have missed out on seeing the centrepiece battlefield re-enactment because the arena where it was staged was too small.
Festival-goers also took to social media sites to express their dismay at the length of queues to pick up pre-paid tickets and to pay at the gate. There were also protests at the amount of time it took to buy food and drink.
Although VisitScotland said the festival eventually reached a full capacity of 20,000, less than half the tickets had been sold by the beginning of June. More than 4000 were bought at the last minute over the weekend at the festival site, next to the new Bannockburn visitor centre.
Festival insiders told The Scotsman that the event was caught short by the numbers who eventually turned out, with huge queues to see the battle re-enactment. The arena where more than 300 performers appeared six times over the weekend was only capable of housing 3500.
Some people were turned away by security guards, despite queuing for more than an hour, amid claims the arena was filled to capacity. Many festival-goers were also thought to have left the site following a huge downpour on Saturday afternoon.
The prospect of refunds was raised by Murdo Fraser, the chair of Holyrood’s tourism committee, which will be calling the organisers of the event to answer questions on what went wrong at the event, which VisitScotland insisted had been an “incredible success.”
However its chairman, Mike Cantlay, was forced to apologise to people upset over the amount of queuing at the £22-a-head event, staged to mark the 700th anniversary of the iconic battle. He said on Sunday: “If anyone feels inconvenienced then I would certainly like to personally apologise to them.”
Yesterday the tourism body, which was forced to take responsibility for the event in January after the National Trust for Scotland pulled the plug on its involvement in January, confirmed it would be carrying out a full review of the event, adding: “Complaints will be dealt with on a case by case basis.”
One review of Bannockburn Live, by Kelly Hayes, on the Travelling History website, said: “The main advertised attraction of the event was the re-enactment of the battle which, from an organisational aspect, was a nightmare.”
VisitScotland, which had discounted many tickets in the run-up to the event, said it had still exceeded its financial targets, but refused to give a breakdown of how many full-priced tickets were sold, citing commercial confidentiality.
Mr Cantlay said: “Over the weekend, the event sold out the capacity 20,000 tickets. With an event of this scale, unfortunately queuing is often inescapable; however our events team worked hard to deal with the 4000 ‘on the day’ ticket sales as well as a large number of pre-paid ticket collections. As soon as issues were identified, immediate action was taken and concerns were dealt with efficiently.
“Queues for the battle performance were managed by staff and we sought to ensure that everyone who came to the event was able to see at least one of the battles. Everyone was guaranteed to see a show as the capacity of the battle ground was able to accommodate all 10,000 comfortably in the three battles at 12noon, 2pm and 4pm.”
Mr Fraser, whose committee is expected to recall Mr Cantlay and Unique Events managing director Pete Irvine to give evidence again following an earlier hearing on the plans for the event, said: “We are not at the minute looking for customer refunds, but it is something that could arise down the line if the committee see fit.”
Meanwhile First Minister Alex Salmond intervened in the wake of the row over the event, insisting: “The Battle of Bannockburn and its iconic place in Scottish history was fittingly recognised throughout the events of the weekend.
“With tickets sold out and members of the public travelling from far and wide to be part of this massive commemoration, the rightful place which the battlefield holds as in our nation’s story was properly recognised and celebrated.”
VisitScotland was forced to take over the running of the Bannockburn celebrations after the National Trust for Scotland raised concerns over an “unacceptable” financial risk to the charity. A third day was dropped and the daily capacity dropped from 15,000 to 10,000.