When even someone like Peter Irvine, a leading light in the creation of Edinburgh’s Hogmanay celebrations, warns the city has a problem because it is attracting so many tourists, it’s clearly something to be taken seriously.
He suggests Scotland’s capital is going the way of Venice, a city that many complain is becoming a parody of itself with high property prices driving out ordinary Venetians. On top of a six-euro nightly tourist tax, the city is now considering imposing an entrance fee of up to ten euros (about £8.50) during peak periods.
Edinburgh has not reached that point yet, but it is clear many people are unhappy about the current situation, amid fears that it will become a ‘doughnut’ city with a Disneyland theme park version of itself in the centre, surrounded by the real city where people actually live.
That said, tourism is a major part of the economy of Edinburgh and Scotland as a whole. There are plenty of places around the world which would love to be as popular. If we were to discourage visitors – and some would say complaining about their presence may already be starting to do that – we would almost certainly regret our actions when they take their business elsewhere.
The trick is to remain as welcoming as ever, while finding ways to alleviate problems for locals. The partial closure of Edinburgh’s Royal Mile to traffic created a venue for performers during the Festival Fringe, but it has clearly become too congested. Expanding events to other locations such as Leith would help spread out tourists, making the experience more enjoyable for them and less of a hassle for people trying to get on with everyday life. Similarly, there is a need for greater help for tourists to enable them to discover quieter parts of the country, such as the Borders and Dumfries & Galloway, as Irvine suggests. Skye is a beautiful island, but it’s not the only one – Scotland has dozens to discover. Better planning seems key.
We do need to be alive to both the economic benefits and the problems that can be caused by tourism.
But we also should not simply look at this as a matter of pounds and pence. It is sometimes forgotten that the provision of hospitality is an age-old duty. Providing a welcome to people visiting what is to them a foreign land is the right thing to do. Scotland currently has a good reputation and we must not lose it.