A Christmas cracker in Edinburgh city centre

Edinburghs retail and hospitality sectors enjoyed a trading uplift for the most part at Christmas. Picture: Phil WilkinsonEdinburghs retail and hospitality sectors enjoyed a trading uplift for the most part at Christmas. Picture: Phil Wilkinson
Edinburghs retail and hospitality sectors enjoyed a trading uplift for the most part at Christmas. Picture: Phil Wilkinson
Edinburgh’s festive season showed a big improvement on the previous year both for visitors and businesses alike, writes Andy Neal

IT MAY seem a long time ago, but the verdict is in on Edinburgh’s Christmas and the festive season certainly seems to have brought good cheer to the capital’s city centre businesses.

Essential Edinburgh represents around 595 businesses in the city centre’s Business Improvement District, and our research shows that shops, bars, restaurants and hotels all saw real benefits from the new-look Edinburgh’s Christmas initiative.

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The Edinburgh Visitor Survey, which is carried out by LJ Research on behalf of Essential Edinburgh, is the first detailed look at how businesses themselves say they fared over this vital time of year – a trading period absolutely essential to the retail and hospitality sectors in particular.

While there are lessons to be learned – and we will look at those – the figures are clearly supportive of the efforts of City of Edinburgh Council, Essential Edinburgh, Marketing Edinburgh and all the stakeholders who worked together to create a vibrant ambience designed to attract people to the city centre.

The figures speak for themselves. Footfall in December massively bucked the UK trend – up 7.6 per cent against a UK figure down 2.9 per cent. More than 90 per cent of all businesses surveyed agreed that Edinburgh’s Christmas was good for the city centre.

Three per cent of businesses said their trading was better than the previous Christmas – with only 7 per cent reporting a significant downturn.

For the hospitality sector, 100 per cent reported a better Christmas than in 2012.

We know through the Edinburgh Visitor Survey that many visitors to Edinburgh in 2013 voiced concerns regarding the opening hours of shops and felt that, besides going to a bar or restaurant, there wasn’t much to do after 5pm in the city centre.

The Christmas survey showed that 70 per cent of retailers decided to extend their opening hours as part of the “Alive After Five” campaign in December, with a substantial number staying open as late as 9pm in the last couple of weeks of the month.

Consumer research carried out in December 2013 showed high awareness of the “Alive After Five” message of longer shop opening hours (77 per cent), and there was evidence to suggest that later opening hours are important in terms of incentivising visits to the city centre for locals.

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In terms of footfall, Princes Street was the busiest spot, with almost 1.3 million people counted during December. The figures also showed a 7 per cent increase on the number of shoppers visiting the city centre later, between 5pm and 8pm, as the late-opening of retailers bore fruit. The evening footfall, up to midnight, was also up on the previous year, by more than 11 per cent, highlighting the positive impact for bars and restaurants.

Some of the other feedback from the survey included the observation that activity in St Andrew Square Garden had helped drive footfall, in particular to George Street and also into Rose Street, while it was acknowledged that positive marketing had helped build interest.

The repositioning of the ice rink, the show “limbo” and the amount of family activities on offer also all received positive feedback.

This is all good and positive, but it would be wrong to think that everything was perfect and there were no lessons that needed to be learned. Some key issues arose from the research, and Essential Edinburgh will work with our partners to ensure that we do endeavour to tackle these concerns when we come to plan Christmas 2014.

For example, there was a strong feeling that more needed to be done to drive footfall towards the west end of the city centre, as much of the activity was focused on the east end, which is also home to many of the city centre’s biggest retailers.

In addition, businesses wanted to see a greater variety in the types of stalls within the various Christmas markets, more and better signage and decorative lighting, and more music.

Last summer, the city centre’s businesses gave a resounding vote of confidence to Essential Edinburgh when our approval rating climbed from the 58 per cent it stood at five years previously (when the Business Improvement District was first established) to 78 per cent – a big jump in support.

As ever, Essential Edinburgh will work hard with our levy-payers, partners and our stakeholders to ensure that we maintain Edinburgh’s city centre as an attractive place to live, work, and visit – so maintaining its hugely positive international reputation.

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And that means ensuring we build on the progress made so far to make 2014 an even greater success for all concerned.

• Andy Neal is chief executive of Essential Edinburgh www.essentialedinburgh.co.uk