Prof Philip Riddle and Prof Joe Goldblatt: Leading the march towards a better future
WITH a proven track record in event tourism Scotland must prepare to invest in the future, write Professor Philip Riddle and Professor Joe Goldblatt
Sixty-five years ago an artistic visionary, civic leaders with a strong political will, and citizens who were committed to their community joined forces to create the legendary Edinburgh festivals.
During the past seven decades, the artistic civic leadership has periodically changed however, the citizens have remained steadfast in their constant support for the original mission, the flowering of the human spirit through the creative arts.
Whilst other sectors such as manufacturing and more recently finance, have suffered from decline, one must ask why historically in Scotland’s capital city and indeed in other destinations throughout the world, has event tourism as represented by the Edinburgh festivals continued to produce sustainable outcomes? The answer to this question is complex but may be not necessarily defined in solely economic terms.
One recent and future example of this phenomenon is Scotland’s Homecoming celebrations of 2009 and 2014.
As a direct result of the Scottish government’s political will, committed volunteers and performing, visual, literary, musical and other artists a remarkable national celebration was conceived and delivered in honour of the 250th birthday of our national poet Robert Burns.
According to the economic impact study of this programme, over £50 million in economic impact was generated by domestic as well as thousands of international visitors.
One may ask how does a small country such as Scotland accomplish such a remarkable success story, over and over again?
One answer may come from Richard Florida who coined the term “creative economy”. Florida suggests that many successful destinations such as Edinburgh must have strong evidence of talent, technology and tolerance to create a environment for the creative class to thrive.
Firstly, talent may be the result of training offered through a conservatoire or other specialized school and it may also be more broadly defined as a talented group of civic leaders whose political will promotes collaborative working relationships such as was exhibited during the successful Homecoming Scotland 2009 programme.
One of the key lessons learned from the first Homecoming Scotland 2009 celebration was that this country is bursting with talent from the Highlands and Islands to the Borders.
The original Homecoming Scotland 2009 programme proved that this talent could be effectively showcased with a national celebration and therefore, this should be further cultivated for Homecoming Scotland 2014 through major national agencies such as Creative Scotland and EventScotland working even more closely together to increase our artistic and cultural capacity.
Secondly, technology is a more recent phenomenon that held little importance 65 years ago, but in recent years has grown to become a major requirement for successful celebration destinations.
Just as in the 19th-century Scotland was regarded as the most literate of all the European nations with a literacy rate of over 75 per cent, in the 21st-century it is equally important to demonstrate technological capability to be highly regarded among the nations of the world.
Therefore, the successful celebration destinations must have wide access to broadband capability and be seen as technological innovators in cloud computing capacity.
Thirdly, and finally, those destinations that demonstrate widespread tolerance for new ideas and even those that are initially unpopular, appear to have a strong edge over others in terms of long term sustainable development of event tourism programmes.
The Edinburgh Festival Fringe annually attracts of 20,000 performing artists from throughout the world and is responsible for generating the majority of the economic impact derived from Edinburgh’s twelve major festivals.
This, the world’s largest festival of the performing arts, could not exist without the tolerance and in fact, encouragement for new ideas being introduced through the arts annually in one of Europe’s oldest cities.
Talent, technology and tolerance are not the sole purview of public servants rather, they reflect a broader commitment of the entire destination to promote advancement through experimentation.
The Edinburgh Festival Fringe has proven over and over again for 64 years that the nation’s capital is a destination where the natural law of supply (as evidenced through the varied artistic work exhibited) will satisfy demand (with the largest number of tickets sold in history in 2011).
Cities in both developed as well as developing nations, such as South Africa, recognise that these attitudes must be institutionalised through a strong political will and a constant commitment by the citizenery to embrace talent, technology and tolerance as cornerstones for future growth. For example, in Johannesburg, South Africa, in the run up to their hosting of the successful World Cup of 2010, the national government created its successful Tourism, Hospitality Education and Training Authority (THETA) to provide event training and certification programme to help lift citizens out of poverty and into jobs in the event sector ranging from sweepers to managers.
This institutionalisation of training as a follow on or halo effect from a major event such as the World Cup is essential for the sustainable development of this celebration destination.
Scotland should consider developing a similar programme in the run up to Homecoming Scotland 2014 and The Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games to ensure that following these major events, major gains will be made in terms of improving the long term prospects for delivering future events in Scotland through a better trained work force.
In conclusion, we have the recipe for success on our doorstep. The challenge for future political leaders, artistic visionaries and citizens is to achieve the right balance of having an enabling public sector and committed citizenery to “provide a platform for the flowering of the human spirit”. The past sixty-five years have not been without significant challenge for the event makers of Edinburgh, however, by embracing the ideals of the original founders of the Edinburgh festivals, this unscripted enterprise has grown to become a beacon of cultural influence throughout the world.
Through further investment in talent, expansion of innovation through technology and a renewed commitment to tolerance of new ideas, this celebration destination and others may grow from strength to strength.
• Professor Philip Riddle was CEO of VisitScotland, the Scottish national tourism agency and is now a professor at Queen Margaret University specialising in the practical aspects of tourism policy at government level. Professor Joe Goldblatt is head of the International Centre for the Study of Planned Events at Queen Margaret University,
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