Overseas visitor numbers soar

RECORD numbers of overseas visitors came to Edinburgh last year, cementing its place as the most popular destination in the UK outside London.

There were 1.33 million international visitors to the Capital in 2006 - up by nearly a fifth on 2005 - taking it further ahead of third and fourth most popular cities Manchester and Birmingham.

Edinburgh's focus on a "year-round" events, growing numbers of people taking city breaks and better air links with mainland Europe have all been credited with helping achieve the 18 per cent rise.

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VisitScotland is today launching a campaign to attract more tourists to the Capital during the "off season" period to drive up this year's figures even higher.

Council leader Jenny Dawe said: "These figures are very encouraging and further demonstrate that the tourism industry in Edinburgh is going from strength to strength. Edinburgh is the top tourist location in Scotland and is now hot on the heels of London.

"The millions who visit Edinburgh can't fail to be impressed with what the city has to offer and that is why many come back time and again."

VisitScotland's 700,000 European Cities campaign will focus on promoting Edinburgh as a city break destination and on festivals taking place in the last quarter of the year. It will target Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden, France, Spain and Italy. Edinburgh's Winter Festivals will be promoted on VisitScotland's international websites and direct mail will be sent to travel operators throughout the European countries.

The gateway websites will also provide links to special deals from city firms including the Bonham Hotel, Royal Yacht Britannia, Channings, the Surgeon's Hall Museum and AEM Edinburgh Holiday Apartments.

Ben Carter, VisitScotland's area director for Edinburgh, said: "Edinburgh is undoubtedly becoming known as a top short break destination, and by highlighting the rich variety of things to see and do year-round in the city we can ensure Edinburgh is a 'must do' for European visitors.

"There is already a trend towards more people taking city breaks. With a major increase in direct international flights to Edinburgh, an important factor in attracting overseas visitors - not to mention Edinburgh's world-class festivals and attractions and great shopping and dining experiences - the Capital is well placed to take advantage of the growing city break market."

Deputy council leader Steve Cardownie, the city's festivals and events champion, added: "We have a fantastic month in August. With the Film Festival being moved to June, as well as the Food Festival, Celtic music festival and winter festivals, we are doing our best to ensure there are events throughout the year.

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"The more agencies that can help and maintain our position the better. It's important for Edinburgh and for Scotland because Edinburgh is the gateway to Scotland. The Scottish Government recognises that as well and hopefully they will reflect that with their funding packages for the city."

Ron Hewitt, chief executive of the Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce, said the rise in the number of tourists was a "huge accolade" for the quality of the city. He said: "It is something close to a 20 per cent rise and we can be utterly proud of our achievement."