VisitScotland has hit back at criticism of its promotion of Edinburgh’s festivals after it was denounced for the lack of a campaign to boost ticket sales when the Olympics were on.
The Scotsman revealed last month that the tourism body had decided against a drive similar to the one which Ireland mounted to lure visitors in during the Games.
No major announcements were made by VisitScotland about the festivals in the run-up to the Fringe, although receptions were held with partner organisations at the controversial “Scotland House” venture in London, which cost the taxpayer £400,000.
The tourism agency, which brought dozens of journalists up to Edinburgh over the last weekend of the Olympics, insists a “last-minute scattergun approach would not have worked”.
Total marketing spent by VisitScotland on the festivals this year came to just £500,000, a fraction of the £7 million set aside to promote the country on the back of Disney-Pixar film Brave, which was released in Scotland on the opening weekend of the Fringe. A study last year found that the economic benefit generated by the Fringe is up to £140 million – the same amount VisitScotland expects its Brave campaign to generate.
Fringe promoters are privately furious at the lack of support from VisitScotland when shows started running midway through the Olympics.
In the end, some venues saw ticket sales plummet by as much as 25 per cent when the Olympics was on and although sales rallied after the end of the games, by the end of the festival some leading promoters admitted they were still 10 per cent down on last year.
There have been calls for lessons to be learned for the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow in 2014 and admissions that it was a mistake not to shift the dates of the Fringe.
One promoter, who asked not to be named, said: “The clash with the dates was well-known about and we were expecting a big effort to get the ‘staycation’ message out to people who might not have been too interested in the Olympics, but would be inclined to go to Fringe shows.
“In the end, it just seemed that we were relying on the usual audience to turn out.”
William Burdett-Coutts, artistic director of Assembly Theatre, expressed fears before the Fringe started, said: “We haven’t got our final ticket sales yet, but they are certainly heading in the direction of a 10 per cent drop. I certainly wasn’t aware of any big campaign.
“We knew years in advance how big a deal the Olympics was going to be. I think it’s been an issue for several years that VisitScotland could be doing more for the Fringe. I’ve no idea what they did this year.”
VisitScotland spokesman said: “Our marketing is some of the most sophisticated in the world, based on sound research and consumer feedback – it isn’t about employing a last-minute scattergun approach. All our research shows the value of carefully targeting the markets that will bring the best economic impact to Scotland - and that’s exactly what we’re doing.”