TOURISM chiefs are planning a new drive to encourage holidaymakers to visit Edinburgh during the autumn and spring to take advantage of half-empty hotels and reduced prices.
Edinburgh Tourism Action Group (Etag) will hold a conference tomorrow to examine new ways to boost the city economy outside of the traditionally busy summer and Hogmanay periods.
Suggestions include urging rugby fans attending the autumn internationals and Six Nations to stay for an extra day or two to help traders and businesses in quiet periods.
This would be achieved by encouraging hotels to offer discounts for those staying for more than one or two nights.
The conference at the EICC will also focus on boosting visitor numbers in the winter months such as early December and January.
Edinburgh has one of the strongest hotel trades in Britain – buoyed by the Festival and Hogmanay – but occupancy can be as low as 54 per cent which means staff are often not taken on all year around.
Tourism is one of the largest employers in the city with more than 30,000 people working in the sector, but there are more than 600,000 unsold hotel rooms in the city between October and March.
Robin Worsnop, chair of Etag, said Edinburgh already benefits from a large number of tourists – its attractions are visited by over seven million people a year – but that it could do more to keep people in the city for a few extra days.
He said: “In many cases, it comes down to seizing an opportunity such as when hotels have a peak weekend during the autumn rugby internationals and the Six Nations.
“If they can offer guests a reduced rate for a second or third night, or even give the third night free, then that completely opens up the things the city can offer.
“Then, in many cases, it’s simply a case of hoteliers and attractions working together and promoting each other to ensure that visitors have a great time while they are here and see the best we have to offer.”
Mr Worsnop, also owner of the Rabbie’s tour group in the Old Town, said that there were opportunities both before Christmas and after Hogmanay which would be discussed by hundreds of delegates at tomorrow’s conference.
Manuela Calchini, regional director of VisitScotland, said: “Edinburgh is extremely important to Scotland, with latest statistics showing that visitors contribute over £1 billion to the economy annually.
“Whilst it’s vital that we continue to capitalise on peak seasons, it’s important that we look outside these traditionally busy times. We’re working hard to market Edinburgh as a year-round destination, and with an ever-expanding portfolio of direct routes, it’s essential that tourism businesses are well prepared to make the most of every opportunity, especially ahead of Scotland welcoming the world in 2014.”