TOURISM leaders have hailed Edinburgh’s Hogmanay celebrations as Scotland’s equivalent to the Olympic Games, as up to 75,000 revellers flocked into the capital last night.
Experts at VisitScotland said the impact of images beamed around the world from the capital’s celebrations to more than a billion TV viewers were as strong as ever.
And hoteliers claimed scenes of famous backdrops, such as Edinburgh Castle and Calton Hill, which were being broadcast during the three-day festival were the “envy of the world”.
Last night, regular blasts of fireworks were fired off Edinburgh Castle rock every hour from 9pm, before a five-minute display at midnight, accompanied for the first time by a soundtrack, of classic tracks from Scottish acts Calvin Harris, Peatbog Faeries, Biffy Clyro and Primal Scream.
There then followed a mass rendition of Auld Lang Syne, before the live music got underway again across four stages.
Despite blustery weather in recent days, the conditions were described as “perfect” by organisers, with just a handful of showers during the four-hour street party, which included the main concert at the Ross Bandstand and an open-air ceilidh on The Mound.
Although tickets for the Concert in the Gardens, headlined by Simple Minds and The View, and the street party in the city were on sale throughout yesterday, the Scottish Government insisted the country was still “the best place in the world to see in the New Year”.
VisitScotland said the only other regular event in Scotland to have the global impact of the Hogmanay celebrations was golf’s Open Championship.
Meanwhile organisers praised the “good-natured” crowds who descended on Princes St and surrounding thoroughfares, as it emerged just four arrests were made at the event, for minor disorder.
Graham Sinclair, assistant chief constable of Lothian and Borders Police, said: “This year’s street party has been a fantastic success and I’d like to thank everyone who attended for cooperating with police and stewards to ensure a safe and enjoyable start to 2013.”
Steve Cardownie, the city council’s festivals and events champion, said: “It has been a truly fantastic event, bringing together 75,000 good-natured and enthusiastic revellers from all over the world to see in the bells in the heart of Scotland’s capital.”
The city council - which started the vast clean-up operation at 3am - insisted the value of the £1.1 million “investment” in the event was shown by 90 per cent occupancy rates across the hotel sector over the past few days.
James Lakie, spokesman for VisitScotland, said: “We know the Hogmanay celebrations in Edinburgh are being spoken about around the world throughout the year, and it is well known that such a big party is thrown here.
“For us, it is up there with the Open when it is held in Scotland for the kind of impact it has, thanks to the TV coverage of the event being shown over three or four days.
“It’s not just about the fireworks at midnight either. It is about the ability of Scotland to host major events with the kind of bands that are playing at the street party and the other events that are on during the festival.”
The big countdown to 2013 had begun in Auckland, New Zealand – the large city closest to the International Date Line – with crowds gathering to watch a fireworks display at Auckland’s Sky Tower.
There was another spectacular display of pyrotechnics in Sydney, where Kylie Minogue was on hand to begin a £4.2m show centred on Sydney Harbour Bridge and lighting up the Opera House.
Minogue, the event’s creative ambassador, who chose the fireworks’ colour scheme and co-wrote the soundtrack, counted down the seconds to midnight while a giant pair of red lips did the same over the bridge.
In Edinburgh, a record 35,000 spectators descended on the city centre for the torchlight procession curtain-raiser on Sunday.
Huge crowds are also expected at various events across the capital today. including the Loony Dook which will see hundreds of revellers brave the waters of the Forth, husky dog races in Holyrood Park and the one-off “Your Lucky Day” event being staged in arts venues across the Old Town.
Organisers say visitors from 60 countries had booked tickets in advance, including Australia, Brazil, Croatia, Denmark, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Japan, Korea, Malta, New Zealand, Portugal, Sweden, Turkey and the United States, with 21 travel bloggers invited to come to
the city as part of a “Blogmanay” initiative.
Edinburgh’s Hogmanay celebrations are being held for the 20th time, with programmers and producers Unique Events at the helm for the whole period.
Organisers faced an additional headache this year, with tramworks on Princes Street ruling out locating any music stages there and the capacity having to drop from 80,000 to 75,000.
However, by mid-afternoon the Royal Mile was thronged. Chinese student Matthew Wu said he was making his first visit to Scotland to take in the celebrations.
He told The Scotsman: “I’ve heard from friends that Edinburgh is much better than London to celebrate the New Year. I’ve been told it will be less crowded, with friendlier people and much better fireworks.”
Australian plumber Matthew Newman, 27, said: “I’d heard a lot about the street party and how the whole city shuts down, so we wanted to try to be a part of it. ”
Sam Fairbrother, a graphic designer from London, added: “I’d heard that the fireworks are some of the best you can see anywhere.”
Colin and Kirsty Henderson, from Christchurch, New Zealand, delayed their honeymoon to celebrate it in Edinburgh at Hogmanay.
Mr Henderson, 34, an IT specialist, said: “We got married in October, but had always wanted to come to Scotland.
“We’d seen the fireworks on television and promised ourselves we’d do whatever it took to get here.”
Mrs Henderson added: I can’t begin to describe what a fantastic atmosphere it is with the Castle and all the music.
“I think we’ll get all emotional at Auld Lang Syne.”
Tracey MacDonald and her friend Stephanie Duncan, both 17, from Bathgate, were enjoying their first Hogmanay on Princes Street.
Ms Macdonald, a nursery nurse, said: “It’s brilliant. There’s so much to see. We’ll be back next year and go to more things.”
Colin Paton, chairman of the Edinburgh Hotels Association, said: “Hogmanay is really Scotland’s equivalent of the Olympics in terms of the impact it has on the industry now in Edinburgh and the exposure it generates for the country.
“Edinburgh is the envy of the world at this time of year.”
The city council said it was happy with ticket sales.
Cllr Cardownie added: “I’ve had nothing but good feedback about how ticket sales have gone and how busy the city is.
“We know the celebrations are worth £27m to the local economy in Edinburgh alone, which is a huge return on investment for the £1.1m that we put into the event.
“Edinburgh and Scotland are quite rightly regarded as the home of Hogmanay.”