SCOTLAND’S tourism leaders want to block a proposed ban on private coach tours travelling along the capital’s flagship thoroughfare.
Tourism minister Fergus Ewing and national agency VisitScotland have called for a rethink over plans which would see tour buses forced to steer clear of either side of Princes Street amid concerns that the city is being complacent about one of its most important industries.
The Scottish Tourist Guides Association has mounted a campaign to have the proposals overturned since they were announced by the city’s transport leaders in October.
It fears tens of thousands of visitors will miss out on “the wow factor” of the iconic views that can currently be enjoyed on official tours. It is thought the move may have a major impact on coach tours provided for visitors on cruise ships which drop anchor in the Firth of Forth.
Concerns have also been raised about the prospect of elderly and frail visitors having to walk lengthy distances to their accommodation.
Council officials say tour coaches have “exacerbated” congestion problems by using it as “a through route” and say a ban would improve the environment on the showpiece street. Under their proposals - which will be decided on next month - tour buses and long-distance coaches would be banned from most of the thoroughfare between 7am and 8pm.
However the idea has angered the tourism industry, which claims tour coaches are not the major source of congestion on Princes Street. The council’s plans do not affect open-top tours run by publicly-owned Lothian Buses.
Sue Gruellich, chair of the STGA, said: “It would be quite significant for people to miss out on that wow factor of the view of Edinburgh Castle and Princes Street Gardens if tour coaches now just skirt around the city centre.
“They won’t get that first great impression of the city and would lose the whole impact of Edinburgh as a a dramatic cityscape.”
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Mr Ewing met with the city council’s own tourism leader, Frank Ross, earlier this month to take up the industry’s concerns.
In a letter to Ms Gruellich, he said: “Coach tourism is an important sector within the visitor mix that Edinburgh attracts. This can include both coach operators from other parts of the UK and mainland Europe, as well as coach tour operators who use Edinburgh as their base for their operations and/or excursion programmes.
“To remove access to Princes Street would cause operational issues for many of these tour operators.”
Manuela Calchini, regional director of VisitScotland, has told the council: “We welcome the council’s commitment to alleviate congestion on Princes Street and are keen to work together, alongside our partner organisations to ensure that any road traffic restrictions which may be necessary to tackle the issue do not result in major difficulties for tour buses, which we do not consider to be the main cause of the problem.
“Limiting access for tour buses bringing visitors into the city centre and potentially prohibiting them from dropping passengers off at their hotels would certainly be detrimental to tourism in Edinburgh.
“Edinburgh is a key asset for Scottish Tourism, and contributes more than £1 billion to the Edinburgh economy on an annual basis. Coach tourism is an important sector within the visitor mix that Edinburgh attracts.
“It’s vital that visitors continue to receive a great impression of Scotland’s capital and an exceptionally warm, friendly welcome. By denying day-time access to Princes Street a part of the visitor experience will be impaired. Many visitors on coach tours are also elderly and on occasion infirm – walking around the city is not always an easy option.”
City transport leader Lesley Hinds said: “Our aim is to alleviate congestion on Princes Street, improving the environment and ensuring public transport is as efficient and reliable as possible.”
The council’s transport committee is expected to discuss the proposed ban on 17 March.