Tourism businesses in Edinburgh struggling amid visitor boom

Tourists in Edinburgh. Picture: Ian Georgeson
Tourists in Edinburgh. Picture: Ian Georgeson
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Three-quarters of tourism businesses and organisations in Edinburgh have admitted they are struggling to cope with the surge in visitors to the city at peak times.

Operators polled by the Edinburgh Tourism Action Group said they are under growing pressure to maintain standards and ensure visitors get a quality experience.

Around 40 per cent of businesses surveyed said they “frequently” face problems, while just said 16 per cent said they had no concerns.

The poll was carried out at the annual Edinburgh Tourism Action Group summit which tackled the need to “manage” the city’s booming tourism industry – which now supports 1,790 businesses and 34,800 jobs.

The event was held just days after official reports suggested the city was struggling to cope with the mass influx of tourists at peak periods. Pressure on roads, pavements and transport networks, problems with “bottlenecks” of crowds and an inability to “get on with normal life” were all cited.

Councillors have agreed to set up a new taskforce which will act as a go-between between community groups and representatives of the festivals, the tourism industry and the heritage sector.

Edinburgh has seen visitor numbers soar from 3.27 million to 3.85 million in the space of five years, with spending rising from £1 billion to £1.3bn over the same period.

ETAG chairman Robin Worsnop admitted there were voices questioning the benefits of the industry’s growth, but insisted the numbers should be celebrated.

He said: “We should be extremely proud that so many people from around the world want to visit our city.

“Who would have thought in 2010, when world headlines were full of depressing reports of financial meltdown and economic downturn, that a mere eight years later we would be discussing how we might manage the numbers of people who might come to the city and whether we should slow down or not?”

Mr Worsnop said he had stumbled across a newspaper article from 1937 raising concerns about how Edinburgh was about to reach capacity for tourist traffic.

He said: “The city, adapts, evolves and manages. These issues shouldn’t be a cause for concern, but they should be cause for us having a think about how we manage, plan and develop the industry in Edinburgh.

“Our industry is one of the most competitive in the world and it is incumbent upon us to continue to collaborate and innovate to provide greater visitor experiences to help keep us ahead of that ­competition.”

Manuela Calcini, regional director of VisitScotland, said: “We must not be defensive, but we have to be pro-active in how we tackle these challenges. Do we need to look at ourselves and see how we run our businesses, how we structure our activities, how we can spread the benefits of the industry throughout the city and also fill more of our seasonal gaps?

“Do we need to ask the government and the city to invest in infrastructure to ensure that it fully meets the needs of this invigorating, energised and vibrant city. We want to make sure our successes are recognised. We don’t want to be Skye [which had serious problems last summer]. We want to tackle any issues now.”