Edinburgh pledges to raise tourism game as council chief challenges business to identify obstacles to tourism spending

Sue Bruce is keen for businesses to work closely together to create packages for tourists. Photograph: Julie Bull
Sue Bruce is keen for businesses to work closely together to create packages for tourists. Photograph: Julie Bull
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EDINBURGH City Council chief executive Sue Bruce has thrown down the gauntlet to tourism businesses in the capital: “If you see something that needs fixing then come and tell us so we can sort it out”.

Almost a year after the launch of the Edinburgh Tourism Action Group’s (Etag’s) 2020 blueprint for the city, Bruce is taking up the reins as chair of the strategy implementation group (SIG), which aims to generate an extra £485 million in visitor spending.

Bruce told Scotland on Sunday: “The best way for businesses to help implement the strategy is to tell us about problems they see in the city. Then we can fix them.”

However, when asked about Edinburgh’s tram system, Bruce said she could not add to what the council had already said about progress on the works and the expected opening in the summer of 2014.

Etag’s plans were launched with great fanfare in January, promising to grow the number of nights visitors spend in the city by a third to 4.15 million by 2020 while expanding their average spend by 10 per cent to £341.44.

Together, the measures are expected to increase tourists’ spending in the city to £1.5 billion in 2020 from just below £1.02bn in 2010, adjusted for inflation.

The strategy also aims to reduce the “lumpiness” in visitor numbers, which tend to peak during the summer festivals and at Hogmanay. Etag wants to bring in more tourists during the “shoulder months” surrounding the big events.

Bruce believes the strategy is already starting to make a difference in this area.

“We’ve linked St Andrew’s day, Hogmanay and Burns Night in the advertising for the winter festival to encourage people to visit more than once,” she said. “We’ve also introduced more consistent sign­age between events that are going on at the same time, for example, between the German market and other events in the Old and New Towns.

“The Hogmanay street party this year is also going to have eight screens for the first time, which will be like creating a giant night club. We have also increased the audience area for our Scottish stage and moved it to Frederick Street so that more people can enjoy the traditional Scottish music.”

Bruce is also keen for businesses in the capital to work more closely together to create packages for tourists.

She also wants to see businesses doing more research to find out what their customers want and help to meet their expectations.

Etag’s strategy was pulled together following the largest consultation ever carried out with businesses and public sector bodies in the capital.

One of the criticisms that was voiced again and again by companies during the consultation was that visitors said there was “nothing to do at night” after the shops shut.

Bruce says the council has responded to the plea through its “Alive After Five” winter scheme, which has offered free parking after 5pm. In response, more than 100 shops in the city centre have said they will stay open later.

Another area of concern highlighted in the strategy was the appearance of Waverley Bridge, which is often a visitor’s introduction to Edinburgh after they step off a train or bus from the airport.

“We have started to plan for what will happen to Waverley Bridge after the tram works are completed,” Bruce said.

“Look at what Network Rail has done with the entrance to the station at Waverley Steps. That has brought the station right on to Princes Street and created a seamless transition.”

Twitter: @PeterRanscombe1