Edinburgh’s festivals are worth celebrating

Let’s laud summertime in the city, suggests Roddy Smith

Picture: Phil Wilkinson

It’s summertime – and as the classic George Gershwin song goes, “fish are jumpin’ an’ the cotton is high”. Gershwin’s lullaby from the opera Porgy and Bess speaks of the revitalising nature of summer, but while it may be too much to say the “livin’ is easy,” Summer in the City is a time that provides sustainability and opportunity for shops, restaurants, bars and hotels.

Festival time is upon us, and with it comes an influx of visitors vital to our essential hospitality, tourism and retail sectors – all major city centre employers. The importance of our festivals – the Edinburgh International Festival and Fringe Festival are the two most famous – cannot be overstated.

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Clearly, the city’s reputation as the festival capital of the world is one we all want to hold on to, because:

• The festivals create jobs and wealth for local people and businesses

• The festivals have an international cultural impact

• They promote cultural diversity and community cohesion

• They promote our city around the world

• They create pride and well-being in citizens

For Essential Edinburgh – as an organisation dedicated to serving and representing the interests of our 600 levy-paying businesses who commit around £1 million a year to promote and enhance our world-class city centre through the Business Improvement District – a key to our unswerving support for the Festivals is rooted in the enormous economic benefits they generate.

That was illustrated as recently as May with the publication of Thundering Hooves 2, a ten-year strategy devised to sustain and develop our festivals, commissioned by Festivals Edinburgh, Creative Scotland, City of Edinburgh Council, the Scottish Government, Event Scotland and Scottish Enterprise. The report – titled to reflect the sound of competitor cities running hard to catch up – is welcomed by Essential Edinburgh in laying out what needs to be done to sustain our pre-eminent position.

Consider a few key figures:

• In Edinburgh, our festivals generate in excess of £250 million a year of gross expenditure by visitors

• Many of the visitors come from outwith Scotland and stay in our hotels, inns, self-catering and guest houses

• Other than tickets, the biggest areas of spending are accommodation, food and drink and entertainment

• The Festivals are reckoned to support around 5,500 full time equivalent jobs in the city

These few bullet points, gained from an impact study published four years ago, clearly demonstrate the enormous positive impact that the festivals have on our city, and the tremendous benefit they create for the people of the city.

To these already persuasive figures we now also need to add Edinburgh’s Christmas, which has demonstrated that it is a vigorous and worthy addition to the capital’s festival calendar. A much more recent study showed that this relative newcomer had almost £120m of direct economic impact in Edinburgh.

A survey carried out on behalf of Essential Edinburgh looked at all kinds of businesses in the city centre to fully gauge the impact Edinburgh’s Christmas and Hogmanay.

The proof of the Christmas pudding came in response to the question, “Do you think that Edinburgh’s Christmas 2014 was good for your business?” Some 69 per cent of businesses said it was, up from 53 per cent the previous year. Asked if they felt it was good for the city centre as a whole, that figure rose to 85 per cent, with only 2 per cent stating that they felt it was not beneficial for Edinburgh. Although some businesses did not feel that they benefitted directly from the Christmas activities (19 per cent) they did see the benefit of the activities for the whole city centre. So the numbers and arguments are chunky. But a key number to bear in mind is the employment one. Around 5,500 jobs – that is a lot of local people whose livelihoods depend on festivals.

At Essential Edinburgh, we support the work of Festivals Edinburgh, which represents the organisers of all 12 of the city’s major festivals. St Andrew Square Garden, which we manage, has become one of the best-loved hubs for festival-goers, creating an atmospheric, scenic venue in the heart of the city, and driving footfall to a part of the city which previously missed out on festival traffic.

Similarly, the work we have done on George Street will help businesses maximise the opportunities of the busy festivals period, while providing visitors and locals with a more enjoyable experience and tremendous ambience.

Roddy Smith is Chief Executive, Essential Edinburgh