Tourism industry has to prove its worth – leader comment

The debate around how best to deal with tourism in Edinburgh has been one of the major talking points of the year.

Tourists on Edinburgh's Royal Mile
Tourists on Edinburgh's Royal Mile

The growth of Airbnb and the gig economy coupled with questions around the use of public assets such as Princes Street Gardens have seemingly boiled over to become an “us and them” battle is some circles.

On the one side, the likes of Sir Tom Devine, Ian Rankin and Alexander McCall Smith have backed a campaign to protect the Capital from overtourism, and “unregulated” development.

Sign up to our Opinion newsletter

Sign up to our Opinion newsletter

On the other, we report today that the friends and relatives of tourism and event workers are being urged to hit back and help safeguard the future of the industry.

In truth, we are all on the same side here. Diminishing Edinburgh’s appeal as a World Heritage Site does not serve the tourism industry any better than anyone else.

And so it is in everyone’s interest that a clear and sustainable strategy is developed to manage the very welcome growth in tourists while at the same time protecting the heritage and history of one of the world’s most beautiful cities.

Most crucially, this has to take account of those who call the Capital home and are feeling increasingly detached from the developments around them and the use of their city.

We know the tourism sector supports 33,000 jobs and is worth around £1.5 billion to the economy, but for too many, the benefits are simply not visible.

With ever more pressure on local services, care services in crisis, cutbacks, and the omnipresent potholed roads, it is easy to see how the growing disenchantment is being fuelled.

When public spaces are then seemingly taken over for commercial operations then this only deepens.

The long-mooted and always controversial “tourist tax”, or transient visitor levy to give it its Sunday name, may begin to turn the tide, but only if the funds raised are ploughed into local communities and services.

Whatever happens, it is clear that bridges need to be built, and this proposed “blueprint” for the future of tourism looks increasingly important.

Much effort is expended in selling Edinburgh and Scotland overseas, but the tourism industry has another major PR exercise on its hands...and it is closer to home.