John Donnelly: The ambition embedded in Edinburgh’s DNA will shape future success

St Andrew Square is illuminated for Bloom -  the opening event at last year's International Festival
St Andrew Square is illuminated for Bloom - the opening event at last year's International Festival
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Earlier this month, I attended the annual Edinburgh Tourism Action Group (ETAG) conference, where my colleague Paul Wakefield presented examples of our work, and the city’s tourism leaders discussed matters on the theme of “managing success”. With much debate around the impact of tourism on the city currently, the agenda could not have been more timeous.

We heard from Geerte Udo from I Amsterdam, the city’s equivalent to Marketing Edinburgh, as she described the experience of Amsterdam – how they’ve managed the success of their city as a tourist destination, and what we might learn from their experiences. Indeed, during her keynote speech, she discussed Amsterdam’s experience of how they have worked with the collaborative economy, the tourism levy and ultimately, how they deliver on the ambition to make Amsterdam “liveable, loveable, and prosperous”. Her presentation was insightful as she shared what it means to look after the needs of the city’s residents and businesses whilst making it clear that they are open and welcome to visitors.

John Donnelly, chief executive, Marketing Edinburgh

John Donnelly, chief executive, Marketing Edinburgh

This struck a chord in me, the work that we do here at Marketing Edinburgh is the same. We work to support and promote the soul of the city, so it can continue to be enjoyed by residents, business and visitors into the future. Ensuring the sustainability of tourism – an industry that supports 34,800 jobs and generates £1.46 billion in visitor spend each year, is a crucial part of that. The conference took place on the same day that Richard Branson announced plans for a new Virgin Hotel on Victoria Street, the group’s first outwith the United States. The new venture is truly an expression of confidence in Edinburgh’s continued profile as a top international destination. And the entrepreneur’s endorsement is sure to offer great value in promoting the city’s unique offering internationally in key markets.

Residents of Edinburgh can be proud of its international reputation, ranked as an outstanding place to live, work, invest, study and visit, and recipient of numerous accolades that confirm it. We are working to ensure that it stays that way, and that is why the city launched the 2050 City Vision last year, which is a project designed to let residents and other key stakeholders shape the City of Edinburgh’s future priorities. As we work to collect and collate the findings of our consultations, one thing we do know is that whatever these aspirations turn out to be, we will have to be ambitious, innovative and collaborative to fulfil them. And that is a commitment that we have made in opening the dialogue, and in inviting residents to shape the future of their home.

We encourage ambition at Marketing Edinburgh, because we see it as a core value of the city, embedded within its DNA; the ambition of those who planned and built the New Town – with audacious vision, clarity and purpose. The ambition of some not to have a mere statue to our most famous novelist – but a monument that towers across the city and demonstrates unequivocally that this is a city of literature. The ambition of those who in 1947 decided that in the post-World War Europe, an International Festival would be an important tool in breaking down barriers, in showing that the language of culture is a universal one which tells us we have more in common with each other than not. Ambition is not a dirty word, and it is value that we call on everyone in the city to live by.

One recent project that demonstrates the willing in the city to collaborate and innovate, is the new Wayfinding project, designed to address one of the key points of the Edinburgh 2020 Tourism Strategy, and developed by a number of stakeholders including; Transport for Edinburgh, ETAG, City of Edinburgh Council and the team here at Marketing Edinburgh. The proposed new system will encourage tourists to explore beyond the hotspots in the city, benefiting residents, local businesses and visitors alike. The integrated system will make it easier to explore different neighbourhoods, supporting businesses in those areas, and open up everything that Edinburgh has to offer, whilst also making it easier for residents as well as tourists, to choose sustainable transport options, public transport or cycle lanes. It is a strategy that had great success in New York with their Five Boroughs project, and one that Amsterdam too, has found success with.

In reports released last week, we heard about the impact of and opportunities presented by the collaborative economy. Much has been said about some of the major players in this space, and Airbnb and Uber have featured heavily on the news agenda. But established local businesses can, and are, benefiting from this growing part of the economy. Recognising that peer-to-peer platforms can drive entrepreneurialism in individuals and enterprising businesses will be key in ensuring that as a city we continue to offer unique and authentic experiences that are increasingly craved by the audiences, often millennials, who make most use of these platforms.

Edinburgh is a special city, and as the global economy grows, and the appetite to travel to inspiring places grows with it, we have the responsibility and opportunity to ensure that the offering to residents, and visitors remains unique.

To do that we have to be ambitious, and we are proud to be assisting The City of Edinburgh Council in working on the city’s overall vision, collectively, we all have the opportunity to drive this great city forward.

John Donnelly, chief executive, Marketing Edinburgh