How tourists can help Edinburgh cope with over-tourism – Robert Aldridge

Edinburgh must be cosmopolitan and welcoming to tourists, but it is a place to live, a home, writes Robert Aldridge.

Edinburgh must be cosmopolitan and welcoming to tourists, but it is a place to live, a home, writes Robert Aldridge.

As Edinburgh swings into its peak festivals season we show the world what a beautiful, outward-looking, liberal and cosmopolitan city we are. As local residents, we have a unique chance to see everything from world-class cultural performances to free street theatre and to mix with people from different cultures. Our reputation as a safe and friendly capital city is reinforced.

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But all that success brings challenges. The city is unique because people live and work in the city centre which is compact and it keeps it real.

The warning by Edinburgh World Heritage that the Royal Mile could be turning into a tourist-only zone is timely. While the city with its partners is reviewing its tourism strategy, it is concentrating more on how to keep attracting more tourists than how to manage tourism better for the benefit of both residents and tourists.

Edinburgh has been identified as one of a small number of cities in danger of ‘overtourism’ (like Venice and Barcelona). It is great to be in the same league as those wonderful cities, but it also means we need to prepare to manage our tourism better.

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The council has identified that we need to be able to better manage holiday lets in the city. Short-term lets (like Airbnb and other platforms) offer a useful affordable element to our tourism offer, but overprovision causes disruption to local residents in tenements and reduces the number of privately rented flats available to local residents, contributing to our housing crisis. We have a lively and vibrant night-time economy, but that can also affect local residents who have to live and work in the city centre. We have a great bus service which at peak tourist times struggles with congestion in the city centre. The introduction of contactless payment will hopefully reduce some of the delays.

The list goes on. We need to keep Edinburgh great, to keep welcoming our tourists and making sure they have a superb experience here. We need to thank them for the investment they make in our economy, providing jobs all year round. We need to allow them to contribute to ensuring the city is well maintained through the hotel bed tax. But we need to manage this vital part of Edinburgh better to make sure they, and we as residents, all get the best out of it.

Meanwhile, no-one can seriously doubt that our climate is changing rapidly. A record-high temperature in Edinburgh last week and flash floods are simply a symptom of our climate emergency. The council rightly has a major project to address the climate emergency with our partners in the city. As a Liberal I am always also interested in how individuals making small practical changes can make a difference. The flash floods earlier in the month highlighted areas which always seem to suffer with blocked drains, insufficient drain capacity, blocked culverts etc. Not all flood prevention needs big infrastructure projects. The council needs to take a look at regular hotspots for blocked drains etc and act now to minimise damage in any future extreme weather. That would have been a useful job for locality committees, but the SNP and Labour abolished them. Given the pace at which our climate is changing, floods are going to be more frequent. So let’s get ahead of the game. If we get the nuts and bolts right, we can prevent more houses getting flooded.

And finally a tale of two leaders. The new Lib Dem leader Jo Swinson, young, inclusive reaching across parties seeking consensus, basing policies on evidence, and Boris Johnson, old Etonian, pandering to the extreme right wing and relying on bluff bluster and optimism. Both great recruiting sergeants for the Lib Dems!