More than 2.6 million people flocked to Edinburgh’s controversial Christmas market, with the overall attendance up nearly five per cent in the space of 12 months.
Underbelly, who produce the event on behalf of the city council, say more local residents than ever before took advantage of discounted tickets for attractions at the market, with the final tally of 196,000 up nearly a quarter.
The seven-week Christmas market, which closed on Saturday, was hailed today as “the most accessible yet” by Underbelly, as it revealed that it was visited by 2,631,154 people, an increase of 360,000 on the event two years previously and up 120,000 in the space of a year.
Underbelly say 196,656 discounted tickets offering 20 per cent off normal prices for rides and attractions were issued at the East Princes Street Gardens site during the festival.
However the firm has pledged to work with the city council, local residents and other stakeholders to tackle “concerns” over the event’s impact.
The market, a fixture of the Christmas festival for more than 20 years, was dogged by controversy after it was allowed to take over more of East Princes Street Gardens than ever before, with a record 163 stalls and bars spread out around the park, including south of the railway for the first time.
After work had begun on new infrastructure to protect new landscaping in the gardens, which was created as part of an ongoing overhaul of the Scottish National Gallery, it emerged that Underbelly did not have planning permission for the scaffolding.
Days before the market opened, Edinburgh World Heritage called for it to be scaled back in future years because of its impact on views across the park, claiming that the attractions "clearly disrupts this magnificent environment to a very great extent." It has warned the council that the expansion of the market this winter "must not set a precedent for future years."
However Underbelly, which produced the festival for the seventh time, said the changes made in the gardens had meant that the market was able to “easily accommodate” the rise in visitors, protect the new-look park and improve “accessibility” at the market.
A “root and branch” review of the Christmas and Hogmanay festivals from 2022 is due to begin within months.
Some councillors want alternative locations for the market to be urgently explored in the wake of the furore over its impact on East Princes Street Gardens.
Underbelly directors Charlie Wood and Ed Bartlam said: “Once again people, voted with their feet and more visitors and significantly more locals than ever before came to enjoy the event in East Princes Street Gardens. This is a testament to the enduring, award-winning appeal of Edinburgh’s Christmas and its world-class offer.
“We acknowledge some of the concerns voiced around the event and we look forward to working closely with the council, residents and other stakeholders to review the event and to look at where and how we can make improvements, and also to contribute to the public consultation on the future of the winter festivals from 2022.”
Roddy Smith, chief executive of city centre business group Essential Edinburgh, said: “We’re delighted to hear of the success of the 2019 Edinburgh’s Christmas activity.
“The Christmas market is a major footfall driver for the city centre and the increase this year to over two and a half million visitors is testament to its importance to the city and our businesses at a crucial trading period.
“The increase in EH-postcode holders purchasing tickets proves the attractiveness of the event to both residents and visitors to Edinburgh.
“We look forward to working with the council, Underbelly and other stakeholders to review and improve this successful event in years to come."
Frank Ross, Edinburgh’s Lord Provost, said: “Edinburgh’s Christmas is enjoyed by tens of thousands of residents and visitors every year.
“This year the event proved to be more inclusive than ever with community events taking place across the city.
“We look forward to working with Underbelly, residents and stakeholders to review this year’s event and conducting our wider conversation with the city to help shape our winter festivals offer from 2022.”