Firm tasked with marketing Edinburgh to world on brink of collapse

Drawing tourists to Edinburgh could become harder if the marketing group is forced to close. Picture: Greg Macvean
Drawing tourists to Edinburgh could become harder if the marketing group is forced to close. Picture: Greg Macvean
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The body charged with selling Edinburgh to the rest of the world as a place to visit, invest in and live is facing closure within months due to a financial crisis and the resignation of its figurehead.

Marketing Edinburgh’s board has admitted the organisation may “cease to exist” next year after being stripped of its local authority funding.

An official report for the city council has revealed the “the option of closure” is being explored and warned that other options under consideration could see a “significant scale back of current activity.”

Councillors have been told it will reach a “go / no go point” in the autumn when a decision will need to be made on possible restructuring based on key priorities and predicted private sector backing.

The body, which was set up in 2010, has created several marketing and social media campaigns to promote the city centre and its attractions, and also leads efforts to attract developers, events, conferences, television and film productions to the city.

John Donnelly, the chief executive of the agency, stood down in April after warning that Edinburgh would be left “vulnerable” to economic decline, risked severing “critical pipelines” and claimed its efforts to attract inward investment, conferences and film productions would be “severely compromised.”

In a letter to councillors in the run-up to its annual budget meeting he said Edinburgh faced becoming seen as “inward-looking and insular” if the cuts to the £890,000 budget went ahead.

However they voted to go ahead with a £300,000 cut for this financial year on condition that Marketing Edinburgh becomes “self-sufficient” by 2020.

In a report for councillors, place director Paul Lawrence said: “Marketing Edinburgh have begun a transformation programme which will develop options to provide Edinburgh with a financially sustainable destination marketing and management organisation that meets the needs of the city and its stakeholders.

“External support has been procured to help co-ordinate and facilitate the development of the required business plan and detailed strategy for transition to a self-financing model. This process recognises the priority of developing a clear direction of travel by the autumn and to therefore ensure a smooth implementation in good time ahead of 1 April 2020.”

Writing in Marketing Edinburgh’s annual review, chairman Gordon Robertson said: “As with all aspects of the council given its funding settlement, we face uncertainty ahead.

“The board and the management team have been alive to the changes coming and last year invested in exploring different models for the city to best reflect its requirement.

“Events caught up with us at the beginning of 2019 and we find ourselves having to transform or cease to exist, following a 34 per cent cut in council funding and an additional cut that will reduce council funding to zero by April 2020.

“We passionately believe that there is a role for an organisation that manages tourism in Edinburgh and manages the city’s brand and reputation in this area. An organisation that takes the views of all, from residents to the tourism businesses, from councillors to visitors and all those in between.

“We have clear direction that such an organisation cannot expect funding from the council.

“Our task is to explore that and we have months of hard work ahead of us to do just that.