The boss of Edinburgh Airport has lashed out at “factions” in the city for making unfair and “fabricated” criticisms of its long-running Christmas and Hogmanay celebrations.
Chief executive Gordon Dewar said the recent debate over the city’s winter festivals, sparked by controversy over their impact on the city centre and its residents, had “not been balanced”.
Mr Dewar warned that “animosity and conflict” would not tackle challenges over the levels of congestion in parts of the city during its summer and winter festivals.
Mr Dewar also mounted a staunch defence of the entrepreneurs behind Underbelly, the events company which has the annual £800,000 contract with the city council to produce its Christmas and Hogmanay festivals.
He said it was “disappointing” that the company, set up by Ed Bartlam and Charlie Wood 20 years ago to run show at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, had attracted criticism when they had grown it to become “one of the most successful international events organisations in the world”.
Mr Dewar, whose airport handled around a million passengers in December, said there was an urgent need for leadership in the city because its year-round festival offering “separates” Edinburgh from its international competitors because it is “a unique selling point and is unchallenged as the best in its field”.
Unfair criticism has been 'disheartening'
Mr Dewar was speaking out after the Edinburgh Hotels Association expressed concern that the industry was being put at risk by “constant anti-tourism messaging” over the winter festivals, which are estimated to be worth £150 million to the local economy.
Mr Dewar said: “As residents, businesses, heritage groups and more, we sometimes forget just why Edinburgh and Scotland tops ‘must visit’ lists across the world.
“While there are many world class elements of the Scottish visitor offer, there is only one thing that separates us from the world, our unique selling point which is unchallenged as the best in its field. And that is our festivals.
“No-one rivals our ability to put on a festival. Every year millions of people come to experience it, to say they were there. It should be something we value as there are many cities that would love that reputation.
“Yet, the past few weeks has not portrayed the same positivity. It has been disheartening to watch certain factions unfairly focusing on perceived or fabricated failures of others when we all share the same goal in preserving and promoting the reputation of the city.”
Mr Dewar said there was a need for someone to step forward in the city to “embrace and confront” challenges posed by the festivals and “find ways to sustainably harness and grow the success we currently enjoy.”
He said there were valid questions over whether the “footprint” of the festivals could be extended throughout the city to help tackle congestion issues, whether a ban on festival events in St Andrew Square should be lifted and whether all new developments in the city should be asked to provide space for performances.
Mr Dewar added: “It is of course right to raise valid concerns and have them addressed but the recent debate has not been balanced and a solution will not be found until it is.
“Animosity and conflict will not address the challenges that we have. It will only serve to further inflame and provoke an already delicate topic.
“But it’s a topic which has the attention of many because we all have an affection for the city, and we must remember that when we’re talking about tourism or we run the risk of cutting our nose off to spite our face – and that is a strategy that has never proved successful.
“I hope that we can recognise the contributions that so many people make to ensure that success, be it our home-grown festival organisations, our universities and of course those like Underbelly, who deliver this world-beating festival experiences.
“Ed Bartlam and Charlie Wood share a passion for this city – they both graduated from the University of Edinburgh. They now run one of the most successful international events organisations in the world. The criticism they have taken has been disappointing because I know they care about our city and have made an incredibly valuable contribution to it..
“But we should all be working with each other to utilise the collective skills and knowledge that we have and come up with a strategy that embeds that need to promote the city with the duty to protect it.
“The key is now building on Edinburgh’s success to benefit us all, but the debate must be balanced and inclusive.”