Letter: Irvine’s ‘over-tourism’ fears entirely justified

Peter Irvine has identified the pernicious effects of over-tourism in Edinburgh and Scotland (“Over-tourism is ruining the city’s medieval atmosphere”, News, March 20).

Tourists on the Royal Mile/High Street, Edinburgh during the 2017 Edinburgh International Festival.
Tourists on the Royal Mile/High Street, Edinburgh during the 2017 Edinburgh International Festival.

Difficulties arise, however, when it degrades into a no-holds-barred cash crop economy based on a largely extractive investment model as is now the case in Edinburgh, where the ­current policy seems to be that the Athens of the North should become a tacky tartan Benidorm.

Edinburgh’s theme park approach also feeds on the spin-offs from Harry Potter and Outlander, spawning a faux history view of the past which led one young visitor from the US to ask me: “Hey, is Potterrow named for Harry Potter?”

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It is no surprise that the three most contentious recent planning disputes in the city are tourism-related, with global backers who will be harvesting profits which will be siphoned off ­elsewhere.

These particular extractive investments will also damage the city’s built heritage by (1) raising a “copper spiral” hotel in the New Town which would, arguably, have a problem getting a planning consent on a Las Vegas strip; (2) desecrating one of the world’s most important neo-classical buildings, the former Royal High School, and (3) inserting a grossly overscaled hotel beside the city’s Carnegie Library, cutting off its views and plunging it into darkness.

This business model brings high risks. For example, Chinese tourist numbers overtook those of America and Germany six years ago, but this is a trade that has been effectively weaponised by the Beijing government, as witness the collapse in Chinese visitors to Paris when that city honoured the Dalai Lama in 2009. Moreover, the Chinese economy is proving to be anything but recession-proof, which hardly bodes well for the future.

The fact that, according to the most recent figures, hotel bookings were down 2.1 per cent may even be our canary in the coal mine. In seeking to defend Scotland the Brand, Mr Irvine is merely stating the 

David J Black, Glanville Place, ­Edinburgh.

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