There is a real sense that Edinburgh is taking a lead in the UK on how to manage tourism for the benefit of all, writes Donald Emslie.
The launch of the public consultation on the draft Edinburgh Tourism Strategy 2030 earlier this month was a significant milestone in the strategy development process. It is also a very clear signal that the city recognises that “it’s time to adapt our approach by working to make tourism work better for the city”.
This short and simple statement sets the tone for what is a very radical shift in thinking. It is a recognition of the need to refocus efforts from driving growth to proactively managing growth to ensure that, going forward, tourism contributes to the city’s wider long-term ambitions and is genuinely a “benefit rather than a burden”.
Reflecting this, the new strategy sets out how tourism will play its part in the delivery of Edinburgh’s Economic Strategy. It describes how it will align to the enablers for good growth such as the transition to a low-carbon economy, fair work and skills development, world-class places, entrepreneurship and data-driven innovation. These are all areas where tourism can directly contribute, while embracing the core values of inclusion, innovation and collaboration.
The ambition is that the final strategy will be the result of a genuinely open and inclusive discussion about the future of tourism in Edinburgh. While there is no doubt that there will continue to be challenges, the strategy will promote a shared agenda and sense of common purpose for the city.
This is true not only for the public sector agencies and private sector businesses who are ultimately responsible for the delivery of tourism, but the residents who are directly impacted by it.
This will build a sense of common purpose, ensure stronger partnerships and create a solid foundation for far more effective engagement with the residents of the city.
The real test begins
Getting to this point has been challenging and while it’s still very early days, the hard work seems to be paying off as the initial feedback on this new approach has been generally very positive.
There’s a real sense that Edinburgh is taking a new direction and is taking the lead in the UK in addressing the need to manage tourism. However, the real test comes now, as the conversation is opened up to everyone with an interest in the sector.
Of course, the devil is always in the detail and given its 10-year timeframe, the strategy can only set the guiding principles, priorities and headline recommendations for going forward. The real test of the strategy will begin as these priorities start to be translated into specific actions and the city has to identify how these are agreed, funded and delivered.
I would urge everyone, including residents, businesses, those working in the tourism sector, public agencies and business associations, to make their views known by participating in the consultation process.
You can see the new draft tourism strategy and make your views known via the City of Edinburgh Consultation Hub. The draft strategy is also available in local libraries. Now is the chance to make your voice heard.
Donald Emslie is chair designate of the Edinburgh Tourism Action Group (ETAG)