Amanda Ferguson: Rely on Edinburgh’s powers of attraction

The capital will be hosting the global TEDSummit next year. Picture: Steven Scott Taylor
The capital will be hosting the global TEDSummit next year. Picture: Steven Scott Taylor
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The International Congress and Convention Association (ICCA) global city rankings were published earlier this summer and Edinburgh remains in the top 50 destinations among more than 400 cities across the world, retaining its number two position in the UK. But along with this great news is bad news – we’ve dropped five places from the year before, from 27th to 32nd.

The fall wasn’t a surprise. After a stellar year of results in 2016 – one of our strongest of the past decade – we were conscious of the potential negative impact the uncertainty surrounding Brexit would have on the industry. That, coupled with murmurings of a potential second independence referendum, presented a challenging backdrop. But we love a challenge. The annual economic value of Edinburgh’s business tourism is estimated to be in excess of £300 million per annum, so it’s a market we want to keep and grow.

These factors sparked the ambition to unveil the first ever collaborative business tourism campaign, Make It Edinburgh, made possible by the support of public and private organisations across the city, with funding of £80,000. And with a city to sell to the world, with so much to offer in terms of eclectic spaces, history, culture and thriving centres of excellence, I feel very positive about the future.

Ten months into the campaign, Make it Edinburgh’s effect has been hugely positive, with traffic to the website seeing a 98 per cent increase on page views year on year. Interest established now will lay the foundations for bookings in years to come. This is especially so given that Edinburgh is booming. Almost monthly, we see the city recognised as a top competitor. We were recently recognised as the UK’s fastest growing tech hub in 2017 and the UK’s top hotel investment hotspot outside London.

We continue to see huge names bring their business to Edinburgh. Richard Branson has chosen the capital for the first Virgin Hotel outside of the US. A hub for inward investment, exciting developments across the city include retail and leisure complex Edinburgh St James, complete with a W Hotel, which will transform this district of the city when it opens in 2020. Emirates are set to launch a new air route into Edinburgh from Dubai this autumn, and Hainan Airlines launched a direct flight to Beijing in June.

In the UK, Edinburgh is second only to London as the choice for event planners, and in 2017/18 we saw £75m contributed to the local economy because of meetings confirmed by Convention Edinburgh alone – that’s not including the additional financial impact of meetings managed outwith our organisation, in private venues. We’re in an incredibly strong position, with the business tourism industry proving a significant economic driver for Edinburgh. Just this summer, the city was announced as host of the 2019 global TEDSummit, the internationally recognised event for “spreading ideas to improve the world”, and the 6th World One Health Congress in 2020, which reinforces the city’s position as one of the world’s leading hubs for medical and health expertise. These wins are the result of close partnership, working with organisations such as VisitScotland, Scottish Enterprise and the Scottish Government. In addition, the impact of hosting the event – both culturally and economically – will be immense.

Bolstered by these positive signs of investment, Make it Edinburgh shines a spotlight on the many reasons people should choose Edinburgh for their next conference or event, and at the pinnacle is our sector strengths. Focusing on six key sectors that the city is thriving in – Technology, Food and Drink; Renewables; Creativity; Life Sciences; and Education – the 12-month campaign has generated content that demonstrates how Edinburgh has advanced in the business tourism industry, and the value it can bring to meetings and events beyond the four walls of a venue.

Knowledge sharing knows no boundaries and sitting outwith the European Union won’t change Edinburgh’s status as a hub of excellence. Looking at other non-EU countries that are successful, such as Switzerland (sitting 17th in this year’s rankings), we absolutely can’t let geopolitics be a barrier between our areas of expertise and the rest of the world. There really has never been a more important time to Make It Edinburgh.

Amanda Ferguson is head of Business Tourism at Convention Edinburgh