Edinburgh hotels urged to offer free stays to Fringe performers

Organisers of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe want the city’s hotels to offer free and discounted hotel rooms to artists to help slash the soaring costs of appearing in shows at the event.

Fringe boss Shona McCarthy
Fringe boss Shona McCarthy

Fringe Society chief executive Shona McCarthy also called for cafes, bars and restaurants to offer Fringe workers discounts rather than see the event as a “cash cow”.

She has urged businesses to take an “altruistic” view of the event in future rather than see it as an excuse to hike normal prices every August.

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Ms McCarthy, who was appointed in 2016, has previously warned that the event is at risk of becoming “unaffordable” for participants and called for a city-wide commitment to balance the “delicate eco-system” which makes the Fringe happen each year.

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The Fringe Society has secured more than 500 discounted university rooms for performers after talks with the sector, while several hundred private home-owners have also agreed to host artists after an appeal earlier this year.

Ms McCarthy said the Fringe was under “huge pressure” to ensure it could continue to boast of being “the most accessible festival in the world” and had played its part by ensuring the cost of entry to its programme and box office commissions were kept as low as possible.

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She urged any business which benefits from the Fringe, which is believed to generate more than £200 million for the economy, to consider putting something back into the event and suggested it was valued more overseas than it is in Edinburgh.

Ms McCarthy said: “We would absolutely love the hotel sector to come to the party in a big way. We would ask them for two things – an allocation of a number of free rooms for artists and performers and also some rooms on a reduced rate.

“We’d love it if every single hotel in the city considered allocating some rooms to artists and performers. It’s not just the top hotels in the city that benefit from the Fringe. We’ve been speaking to a lot of them and are beginning to make real inroads.”

“If you look right across the landscape you see that prices for everything go up in August.

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“We would love to see all businesses in the city have special deals for the artists, performers, creatives and support workers who come to the Fringe to acknowledge that they are the driving force and the rocket fuel of this festival.

“We’d basically like to see businesses provide 30 per cent off to anyone who is wearing a Fringe lanyard.”

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She added: “This is an unsubsidised arts festival, where the performers and artists and creative entrepreneurs who set up the venues are the people who take the risks to make the Fringe happen.

“There is a huge pressure on the Fringe and everybody involved in it to continue to be the most accessible festival in the world and ensure it remains affordable. There is a real collective commitment to that.

“Our call-out to businesses is for everyone who benefits from the Fringe in some way to have some recognition of that and realise that it is not never-ending.

“My messages to businesses would be to remind them that the Fringe is an extraordinary thing for Edinburgh and Scotland. It literally brings the focus of the world on to this city for a month every August in an incredibly positive way.

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“I’m still blown away at how phenomenal the Fringe is in terms of promoting Scotland as an open, international, creative and outward-thinking place. People should see the Fringe as something they should really invest in.

“What it does for the city and the country can only really be appreciated when you go to other places and talk to people there.”

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Russell Imrie, spokesman for the Edinburgh Hotels Association, said: “The financial model of hotels is based on a full year’s performance, not one month’s trading in isolation.

“The Edinburgh tourism year is very seasonal from periods of high demand to periods of very low demand. Hotels need buoyant trading months to support months of the year when they trade at a financial loss. Pricing of all travel related products is based on supply and demand. Prices are higher in periods of high demand and lower in periods of low demand. Higher prices in August are balanced by very low prices in low season. Hotel pricing methodology is in line with all other travel businesses.

“However, hotels are independent businesses who will make their own decisions.

“If a hotel is financially able to offer additional support it will do so, but a uniform scheme across all hotels in the city could not be supported as it would not be financially sustainable for some hotels.”

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Garry Clark, development manager for the Federation of Small Businesses, said: “The city’s small local businesses are keen to join in the celebrations around our annual festivals and value the cultural and economic contribution they provide to Edinburgh.

“As always, pricing is guided by supply and demand but we know from last year’s experience that increased competition in the accommodation market has led some providers to lower the cost of rooms, even during the festival ­period.”