Festivals crucial to city’s progress - Roddy Smith

The curtain rises again this month on the greatest cultural festival on earth – we are truly fortunate that it happens in our wonderful city.

Every year – Covid 19 excepting – the summer festivals bring the cultural focus of the world firmly onto Edinburgh. After a very difficult couple of years for the city centre, including a cancelled then truncated Festival season, it is wonderful to see the August Festivals returning to near normal size and scale creating atmosphere, activity, and opportunity. Forward hotel projections and visitor numbers are encouraging.

For Essential Edinburgh it is important to support activity in our area to encourage the footfall that will inevitably follow. This year we are delighted to be supporting free Fringe activity in both St Andrew Square Garden and in the St James Quarter.

We have also worked closely with Assembly Festival and the St James Quarter to support additional outside activity. With venues such as The Rose Theatre, Freemasons Hall, Merchants Company, RSE, Le Monde and the Voodoo Rooms to name but a few, we will have our biggest programme of shows for many a year.

Edinburgh Festival Fringe entertainers perform on the Royal Mile in 2019. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

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This will complement the offering in the traditional old town venues, whilst more taking place north of Princes Street will help spread activity throughout the city. It is especially pleasing to be partnering with the St James Quarter where Fringe Central will be located along with the BBC using a Speigeltent in St James Square – this development is significant for the city as we can utilise space for outdoor activity, which is on hard standing not grass, thus offering sustainable venues which also offer retail and hospitality venues close by.

Our partnership with the Edinburgh International Film Festival continues this year with our popular free outdoor film screenings in St Andrew Square Garden over the weekend of the 12th to the 14th of August. This supplements our free fringe stage in the Gardens as superb free entertainment for our residents and visitors to enjoy.

It is well worth remembering the scale and importance – economically, culturally and in terms of the general well-being and feelgood of our city – of the festivals: 60 per cent of festival audiences come from Scotland, with 40 per cent from further afield; 1.17m individuals make almost 4.9 million attendances – ticket sales comparable to a World Cup; 72 per cent of Edinburgh residents believe the festivals make the city a better place to live; The economic impact runs to hundreds of millions, supporting 5660 full time equivalent jobs.

Our city centre has changed considerably since August 2019 with a more diverse and varied retail and hospitality offering, as well as additions of new hotels with more in the pipeline.

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The month of August is crucial to this progress and we welcome the recent draft vision and principles of Festivals Edinburgh – we must proactively address issues such as our workforce, our environment, our infrastructure, our public spaces and our place in a global society to ensure our Festivals remain embedded in the fabric of our city.

The regeneration of our city centre has tourism to thank. Many of the major redevelopments of tired and empty buildings are geared to the visitor economy. It is vital that, as a city, we promote and support the Edinburgh 2030 tourism strategy and work unbelievably hard to encourage visitors to return.

Edinburgh is entering a crucial period in the post pandemic world. We are lucky enough to live and work in a wonderful world-renowned city that is attracting long term investment and has huge opportunities. How we react and embrace these changes will define us for the next generation. The Essential Edinburgh tagline is Historic Past Exciting Future, and a more apt one I couldn’t imagine.

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