Donald Anderson: Tourism is at heart of capital's success

Tourism is our biggest industry. It employs record numbers with more than 30,000 people in the Edinburgh area in accessible jobs at all pay levels from cleaners to chief executives.
Edinburgh's success as a tourist destination has been built on the cheap. Picture: Scott TaylorEdinburgh's success as a tourist destination has been built on the cheap. Picture: Scott Taylor
Edinburgh's success as a tourist destination has been built on the cheap. Picture: Scott Taylor

The tourists that visit Edinburgh help support shops, restaurants, theatres and other services that a small city of just half a million people would be unable to otherwise support. Tourists even support our own holidays by increasing flights and trains – not to mention making them cheaper.

Edinburgh has had huge success in tourism. From the stunning beauty of a city where almost every corner turned in the city centre presents a picture postcard view, to the visionary post-war creation of the International Festival and the more recent triumph of our fantastic winter festivals. Edinburgh is a wonderful place to live in and visit.

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But that success has been built on the cheap. The actual cash that gets invested in tourism in the nation’s capital is a drop in the ocean compared to other cities where bigger and faster growing budgets are dispensed to attract visitors to existing and newly emerging destinations.

Recently, it seems, the prospect of an answer to those funding problems is planned. I for one hope the so-called “transient visitor levy” will come to pass. The many millions raised could revolutionise cultural tourism and city promotion and it wouldn’t cost residents a penny.

It adds a pound or two to a night in a hotel or guest house. Whilst many in the tourism industry will rail against the idea, parts of the industry already do the very same thing, adding a pound to hotel bills for charitable causes.

France has operated a tourism levy for more than 100 years without any problem. It has helped France become the most popular tourism destination in the world. Like the French levy, Edinburgh’s would be additional to existing spending, not a replacement. Businesses could be directly involved having a real say on how and where the money is spent and perhaps a three-year pilot project to see how it works.

Our festivals could be given the biggest financial boost since their inception. The city could get serious money for its promotion and capital could help renew our public spaces where so many events take place. It’s an opportunity we let slip at our peril. London, it is rumoured, is close to a deal with the UK Government and Edinburgh should not miss the opportunity to lead (rather than lag) in tourism development.

This is a once in a generation opportunity to raise our game, to raise the quality of of our events and of the city itself. We could promote Edinburgh on a par with many of the greatest cities in the world.

Edinburgh is a wonderful place to live and visit; a truly world-class city and tourism destination. A visitor levy will make it better still.

Donald Anderson is a partner at PPS Scotland, Edinburgh