Edinburgh failing to compete with European rivals

Gordon Robertson wants more investment in promotion

Crowds came out for the Queens Baton Relay in Edinburgh. Picture: Lisa Ferguson

The buzz in the city over the last few weekends has been electric. From the Gumball 3000 and the Queen’s Baton Relay to the popular Film in the City outdoor cinemas in Grassmarket and St Andrew Square and the Meadows Festival, it’s amazing to see people out enjoying and experiencing their city.

There is definitely a sense of optimism around Edinburgh, with the trams up and running, new investments such as the £850 million St James Quarter and £110m The Haymarket under way, record-breaking visitors figures at Edinburgh Castle and passenger numbers at Edinburgh Airport.

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But before we sit back, congratulate ourselves and leave it to our stunning Unesco World Heritage skyline, internationally famous festivals and galleries to do the hard work to promote our city, the reality is hugely different. There are big challenges ahead. It takes a lot of hard work, creativity and diplomacy to promote our city and it’s only going to get harder as more competitor cities wake up to the value of tourism.

I’m honoured to be the new chair of Marketing Edinburgh. Particularly since the appointment of chief executive John Donnelly one year ago, Marketing Edinburgh has moved from strength to strength. It now has a results-driven three-year business strategy in place and a fully integrated city-centre campaign in the shape of This is Edinburgh under way. Marketing Edinburgh has such an important role to play in the city and now, with the right framework and right team, it’s perfectly positioned to help move the city forward.

To make this happen, common sense and a clear joined up approach on every level is crucial. We need to make the process for people looking to visit, invest, exhibit, film and work in the city as simple as possible. By working together behind the scenes, we give Edinburgh the foundations and space to showcase its unique city offering.

A great example getting it right is the work of Marketing Edinburgh’s Convention Bureau (MECB) and its Edinburgh partners. During the last financial year, MECB broke all its records, winning new conference bids worth over £90.1m to the local economy. That’s £16m more than 2012-13. It’s an amazing achievement and not one accomplished alone. The £110m-plus investment in facilities over the last couple of years by Marketing Edinburgh’s partner venues such as EICC, Assembly Rooms and The Sheraton Grand, have been crucial to bringing the standard of the city’s business tourism offering to the level expected by international conventions.

It’s impressive, but step outside Edinburgh to compare the capital against its European counterparts and the reality is bracing – Edinburgh’s promotional activity still remains fragmented, under funded and under resourced. We don’t need to promote less – we need to promote more. More money, more collaboration, more ambition, ultimately bringing more return to the city. That’s what Marketing Edinburgh is determined to deliver.

Others need to follow. The private sector needs to take a bigger responsibility. Recently Marketing Edinburgh launched its Corporate Partnership Programme. Introducing a more linked up, creative approach to marketing of the city, the new programme aims to encourage its “corporate citizens” to get behind Edinburgh, not simply financially, but to gain the best of members’ wider skillsets. In return, companies receive an individually tailored support package and range of benefits from Marketing Edinburgh, and will have a position of influence in how the city is marketed.

I’m thrilled to say we already have a number of organisations signed-up, including the University of Edinburgh and Edinburgh Hotels Association. They recognise it’s a new way of working, one that will bring tangible, measurable benefits for the entire city – it’s more efficient, there is a better use of spend and it gives us a stronger voice.

Two new non-executive appointments to Marketing Edinburgh’s board reinforces the ambition of what we aim to achieve with the Corporate Partnership programme. I’m delighted Bill Percy, customer experience manager at Virgin Money, and Juliana Delaney, chief executive of Continuum Group, have added their voices, experience and industry contacts to help proactively support Edinburgh. It’s an example I hope other industry leaders will follow and get more involved.

This private-public partnership is something myself and John Donnelly are passionate about developing further over the next few years. I encourage every business that wants to attract tourism, investment, students, shoppers – or those that want to give their staff a great place to live – to participate at the level that they can.

This is effectively a new era for Edinburgh and there are exciting times ahead.

• Gordon Robertson is chair of Marketing Edinburgh and director of communications at Edinburgh Airport www.marketingedinburgh.org