Tourism is an important part of the Scottish economy but we can all agree Edinburgh is no theme park.
Jonathan Meades, an articulate and thoughtful commentator on architecture and culture, once described Edinburgh as a city designed by “enlightened angels”.
And its undoubted beauty is one reason why so many people from all over the world come to visit. The city’s renowned Festival and Fringe, Hogmanay celebration and other events have also proved to be a powerful attraction.
Edinburgh now attracts nearly four million visitors a year and, collectively, they spend an impressive £1.3 billion, supporting the jobs of some 35,000 people.
However, it is possible to have too much of a good thing and many in the city have come to the conclusion that tourism has now reached that point to the dismay of Gordon Robertson, the chair of Marketing Edinburgh. He told how “everybody hates a tourist” seemed to have become the city’s strapline as people increasingly subscribe to the “tourism bad narrative”.
And Robertson is right to raise the alarm over this trend. Scotland’s economy needs all the help it can get and catering for tourists is now an important part of this country’s financial well-being. The only way Scotland is going to tackle poverty, spend more on the NHS and create the kind of country that everyone wants to see is to grow the economy.
That said, Robertson perhaps might agree that, in hindsight, his remark that he was “not so sure Disneyfication is a bad thing”, after his family went on a trip to the cartoon-inspired resort, might be a bit of a gift to his opponents.
He may have meant Disney’s “well-trained staff” and “fantastic experience”, he may have said “none of us wants to live in a theme park”, but critics who already complain about the Disneyfication of Edinburgh will simply see this as further evidence of their claims.
One reason tourists love Edinburgh is its stunning urban landscape: the castle on a hill, Arthur’s Seat, the tangible, living history of the Old and New Towns. There is a place for See-you-Jimmy hat shops, but too many would detract from that.
So Edinburgh needs to strike a balance between pleasing tourists and remaining a city where people live and work. We should be extremely careful to avoid encouraging an anti-tourist sentiment. We’d miss them and curse ourselves if they stopped coming. But we should also remember, this is a city designed by angels, and not Walt Disney.