Captial vision to promote Edinburgh tourism

Portobello in the sunshine. Picture: Ian Rutherford
Portobello in the sunshine. Picture: Ian Rutherford
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Edinburgh’s tourist trade has been a huge success story in recent years, and a blueprint has been published highlighting what might be done to help that boom continue up to 2020

IMAGINE The Royal Mile as a pedestrianised gateway to Edinburgh Castle, the flagship Scottish tourist attraction; Princes Street a hub for restaurants and bars, boasting glorious views of the Old Town, rather than a slog for shoppers; neighbourhoods from Stockbridge to Portobello offering tourists an “authentic” slice of Scottish life.

Areas for promotion include Stockbridge and, below, Portobello

Areas for promotion include Stockbridge and, below, Portobello

The tourist industry in Edinburgh has been transformed in the past 20 years. The successes range from the growth of Edinburgh’s Hogmanay into a trademark winter attraction to a boom in air routes, which has quadrupled the number of passengers at Edinburgh Airport. It has been estimated that jobs that depend on tourism have risen from 12,000 to 32,000.

Yesterday tourism chiefs and business leaders laid out targets to be hit to see the boom continue, and plans for how it could be achieved. By 2020, they hope to boost visits to the city by a third and to increase the amount each visitor spends here, to increase income from tourism from £1 to £1.5 billion, creating some 11,000 new jobs.

Proposals include: transforming the quality of the “public realm” that tourists walk around in Edinburgh; major overhauls at the Assembly Rooms, to be completed this summer; and the extension of the Edinburgh International Conference Centre, due in 2013.

The vision does not include a “bed tax”, which Edinburgh City Council voted for in December, said Fergus Ewing, Minister for Energy, Enterprise and Tourism. Faced with calls for increased cash to promote the city, he proposed a business improvement district, using a levy on city businesses to raise funds.

“We have no proposals to introduce a bed tax,” he said. “Given VAT is at 20 per cent we think there are a lot of very serious price constraints.”

Edinburgh City Council voted to approve a tourism levy or “bed tax” in December, but businesses are hostile and a similar measure was blocked by the Scottish Government three years ago.

Within the city, improving the “public realm” is a key demand of the tourism sector, said Robin Worsnop, chairman of the Edinburgh Tourism Action Group, Etag. Improving the Royal Mile is a priority, along with Waverley Bridge, the first sight of the city millions who arrive by train get. “There’s potential there to create a real wow factor, within the City of Edinburgh,” he said.

“The Royal Mile is the iconic street of Edinburgh, and there’s been some fabulous development in terms of the realm between the Tron and St Giles. We want this to be a consistent across the whole of this historic street, between Edinburgh Castle and Holyrood Palace, as the jewel in the crown of the city and the Old Town. “

“There’s a case for pedstrianising the area from Lawnmarket up to Edinburgh Castle, as there is a huge footfall there, and to create a world-class experience.”

He said the role of Princes Street would also be transformed, with the tram works finally complete, and the redevelopment of the St James Centre: “We see a great opportunity for Princes Street, which has got one of the most amazing vistas in the world, to be developed as more of a leisure visitor centre, with restaurants, bars, and potentially hotels and clubs.”

He added that unlike major shopping streets in most cities “Princes Street is more suited to such developments as it is a one-sided street.”

Worsnop noted that visitor satisfaction rates with Edinburgh are lower than for Scotland as a whole, meaning there is work to be done: “We are living in a very competitive market.”

Tourist spending over the next ten years will add about £30bn to the Edinburgh economy, he said, adding that “Our call is to invest in the public realm, invest in the sector, so we can deliver jobs for our city,” and noting the tourism sector has been the “Cinderella industry”.

The Edinburgh 2020 Tourism Strategy was launched yesterday by Etag, outlining goals for the next decade. The group represents city tourism businesses that run transport, venues, shops, and festivals. Its steering group includes representatives of VisitScotland, Scottish Enterprise, and the Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce.

A critical aim is to increase the use of the city’s tourism capacity across the year, boosting visitors during the quiet winter months. The report estimates that as well as a million unused room nights in the hotel and guesthouse sector, there may be another third of a million empty rooms in self-catering accommodation. Key investments in Edinburgh’s tourist trade range from eight new galleries at the National Museum of Scotland – which became the city’s most visited tourist attraction this year – by 2015. Other developments that could boost visitor numbers include improvements to the Royal Highland Showground and the British Open Golf tournament at Muirfield in 2013.

Tourists, the report says, are looking for “immersion in a culture, unique experiences, and authenticity”. It notes that while the tourist trade is concentrated in the Old and New Towns, “vibrant neighbourhoods” such as Stockbridge, Bruntsfield, South Queensferry and Portobello should also be considered: “Each of those areas has a substantial stock of visitor accommodation, providing very attractive, out-of-the-ordinary places to stay.” And there is the need to boost “tourism growth points” in West Edinburgh close to the airport, and on the city waterfront.

Ewing said: “This is an exciting time for tourism in Scotland. Tourism is, by many measures, the largest industry in Scotland, worth £4bn. It employs a huge number of people throughout Scotland and it represents an immense opportunity for this country and this capital city over the next few years.”

Ideas for promoting the city include “Edinburgh at Twilight”, improving the availability of things to see and do in the early evening, from 5-8pm and a one new event to fill the trough in winter demand.

Jenny Lambie, of Lambie Gilchrist Associates, briefed Etag conference members yesterday on “beating the winter blues” not with new events but by linking to existing attractions. “In between November and March there’s a huge amount happening,” she said, and that businesses should “sweat the market” by tying promotions to existing events, such as the Edinburgh International Science Festival or Six Nations rugby games.

AT A GLANCE

THE Edinburgh 2020 Tourism Strategy aims to build on a “unprecedented growth” in city tourism in the past 20 years. Tourism accounts for an estimated 12 per cent of the city’s workforce, and the economic impact of Edinburgh’s festivals in 2010 was rated at over £250 million a year. The city has up to 16,000 bedrooms available in the peak summer period, and over 400 restaurants.

A key goal for tourism businesses is to maximise their use, along with theatres or other facilities, through the year, and boost demand in off-season in a winter marketing campaign.

A “coherent vision” for the Royal Mile and Princes Street are seen as critical, as well as improving the “public realm” for visitors by addressing “litter, graffiti, and begging”.

Launching the report, Enterprise and Tourism minister Fergus Ewing spoke of making tourism a “career of choice” for children, and putting the planning system behind tourism developments.

There are no plans for a “transient visitor levy” or bed tax, but there are hopes for a business improvement district, where businesses support attractions through a levy.

THE AIMS

1. Increase the number of visits to the city per year by one-third, from 3.27 million to 4.39 million visits, generating an additional 4.15m visitor nights, an increase of 3 per cent.

2. Increase the value of visitors’ spend by 10 per cent, with a target increase from £310.40 to £341.44. If the increase in visitors by a third is achieved, this will generate an additional £485 million per annum, boosting total visitor spend from £1,015 billion to £1.5 billion in today’s prices.

3. The strategy aims to reduce the seasonality of visitors to Edinburgh. The target is to achieve 50 per cent growth in visitors between October to March, and shift the 40:60 split between low and high season months to 43:57 per cent.

4. The strategy aims to create 11,200 jobs or 8,400 full-time equivalent posts by 2020, close to 30 per cent of Edinburgh City Council’s target of 40,000 new jobs by 2018