Crucial festive period for businesses - Roddy Smith

As Christmas approaches fast, it is great to see the city prepare to celebrate the festive season. Obviously, last year was a different experience for us all, so it is wonderful to see lights and decorations go up, retailers and hospitality businesses advertising their deals, and of course the impending start to the official Edinburgh’s Christmas activities.

Roddy Smith, CEO Essential Edinburgh
Roddy Smith, CEO Essential Edinburgh

After such a difficult period for our city centre businesses, everyone is hoping for a bumper festive period with thousands coming into the city to celebrate in a Covid safe environment. The next seven-week period through Christmas and Hogmanay is crucial for these businesses and of course for our residents and visitors. There are few better places to enjoy Christmas than in our city, and we look forward to welcoming everyone safely in.

Essential Edinburgh is pleased to be partnering with Underbelly to put in place the large ice rink on the westerly block of George Street. This has been a long-standing ambition of ours as it will support the spread of increased footfall throughout the city centre, as well as bring back one of the city’s iconic Christmas attractions. We have also partnered with Social Bite to deliver the Festival of Kindness in St Andrew Square Garden, supporting the charity in their vital work with the homeless community. With an enhanced lighting display to go along with the festival, we look forward to seeing the Square busier than ever.

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Christmas and Hogmanay are also a time to reflect on the year gone past and look forward to exciting times ahead. Our city centre is and will continue to change rapidly. 2021 has seen the opening of the St James Quarter and the Johnnie Walker Princes Street experience, both world class developments. This of course, along with the changing nature of retail, has also put pressure on other city centre streets, Princes Street especially. However, 2022 will see even more scaffolding appear on the street as buildings such as Jenners, Debenhams, Royal Overseas League, Top Shop, and others look to redevelop and reimagine the old buildings for new uses. This is to be applauded and supported as we must proactively address the changing nature of Princes Street.

We are also seeing new hospitality and experiential businesses enter Princes Street to compliment the retail offering. This will all of course take time, but Edinburgh city centre is being hugely successful in attracting new investment and new entrants to the city. In this most challenging of periods for city centres across the globe, we can be thankful that our city is open for business and ready and willing to embrace change. Owners, investors, developers with the support of our city planners are making bold decisions with a long-term viewpoint to reimagine the street.

City centre footfall is continuing to improve although not surprisingly still below 2019 levels. Resident and domestic visitors have come back in their numbers to the city centre and retail and hospitality figures reflect this pleasing growth in recent months, although there is a long way to go.

However, two groups that have still not returned are office workers and international visitors. This will take time, but it is our hope especially that office workers will start to come back in significant numbers in the New Year. Many businesses are re-imagining their office space to make it more flexible for hybrid working, which is great news, but now we need to see this put into action.

Responsible tourism, with sustainability at the heart, is rightly a top priority and one at the forefront when international travel begins to open up. We must grasp the opportunity to boost our standing and promote ourselves to the world.

Roddy Smith, Chief Executive of Essential Edinburgh

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