Let's get slicker at marketing our city '“ for tourists and people who live here

John Donnelly: Let's get slicker at marketing our city of Edinburgh
New York Citys Highline walkway has become an oasis of greenery among the skyscrapersNew York Citys Highline walkway has become an oasis of greenery among the skyscrapers
New York Citys Highline walkway has become an oasis of greenery among the skyscrapers

Edinburgh is a world-leading ­destination, and we must shout out about it. ­However, while we celebrate our successes, we must also acknowledge our responsibility to manage that success, on behalf of those who live here.

Global tourism trends indicate that visitors are interested in travelling to cosmopolitan ­cities like Edinburgh. Worldwide city breaks increased by 98 per cent between 2011 and 2016.

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Capacity is rapidly on the increase, with the likes of Airbnb allowing ­people to list their homes as accommodation. Air travel is on the up, with new flights announced regularly. This all has the ability to dramatically change the resident and visitor experience we know and love today. To ensure it changes for the better, we must take a firmer hand in managing the ­direction we’re headed in.

John Donnelly, chief executive of Marketing EdinburghJohn Donnelly, chief executive of Marketing Edinburgh
John Donnelly, chief executive of Marketing Edinburgh

Our three-year strategy is being developed with our board to add that extra ‘M’ to our DMO status and become a destination marketing and management organisation (DMMO). So what does that mean for the city? It means that as our tourism appeal grows, Marketing Edinburgh will take a more active role in ­managing the flow of visitors. We’ll shape their experiences so that ­Edinburgh remains ­competitive on the global stage, but in a way that allows it to continue thriving for ­residents.

Success will be determined by the strength of our partnerships, in ­particular with the City of ­Edinburgh Council. Alongside them, we will plan for change. We’ll develop, ­manage and improve the overall city experience as the tourism landscape evolves. This is not just for visitors, but also – crucially – for residents and businesses, protecting the heart and soul of the city.

Firstly, the path towards becoming a DMMO will see Marketing ­Edinburgh vigorously assess and benchmark the experiential quality of our destination against other ­leading cities.

Bespoke, independent and globally recognised research will be commissioned. In line with the overall ­economic ambitions of the city, we’ll aim to increase the variety of ­quality experiences per trip – investing resource into improving areas where we may fall short. The ­ambition is for the typical visitor experience to take in the city’s offering as a whole, rather than being concentrated to specific times, ­sectors, events or places.

However, it’s not just about economic success. Far from it. With a remit of protecting the soul of the city, a DMMO must work hand in hand with residents to deliver a shared vision for the future of tourism.

We’ll ­consult with Edinburgh’s ­citizens, deciding together what types of visitors we most want to attract to the Capital, to help foster the right environment for all. This was seen in action with Vancouver’s tourism master plan, which ­surveyed more than 2000 local ­people to align their interests with the growth of the city’s tourism industry.

One recommendation to come from this was a neighbourhood focus – spotlighting lesser known pockets of the city which could benefit from additional tourism, while creating diversity and relieving pressures on existing attractions.

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A ‘placemaking’ strategy will then emerge by identifying and creating new experiences that enhance the charisma of the city, while also ­giving back to the local community.

A fantastic example of this is New York City’s Highline which has ­utilised out-of-use, elevated freight railway tracks and turned them into raised walkways and ­community ­gardens. It’s a green oasis against a backdrop of skyscrapers, and is ­universally loved by visitors and ­residents alike, with a varied ­programme of live music, art installations and charity events.

Like The Highline, the purpose of a placemaking strategy is to inspire civic pride and generate public ­discourse, nurturing and building upon the city’s authentic beauty, while supporting the overall health of the community. A similar attraction is entirely realistic in a city which has as much character and spirit as Edinburgh does.

New travel products and events ­programmes will also be developed to appeal to the types of visitors we want to attract. It won’t be about starting from scratch. The core ­reasons people come to Edinburgh will remain – our history, our ­culture, our festivals – but the ­addition of new experiences will steady the flow, encouraging different audiences to visit us outside of peak season, while maximising the cultural offering for residents, all year round.

Ultimately, as a DMMO, the most important audience we serve will be those who choose to live in Edinburgh. Marketing Edinburgh will continually monitor and manage the evolution of the Capital as a ­global ­visitor destination, with the goal of protecting the resident experience.

We’ll react nimbly to trends or ­developments that may threaten this. By carefully managing the health of our visitor experience, we’ll ­maximise the overall enjoyment of the city for everyone who calls it home.

John Donnelly, chief executive of Marketing Edinburgh.