One of Scotland’s leading tourism and events experts has urged councillors against “rash” or “knee-jerk” decisions on the future of Edinburgh’s Hogmanay celebrations in the wake of a string of controversies over the event.
Paul Bush, director of events at national tourism agency VisitScotland, warned Edinburgh could suffer huge “reputational” damage if it pulled the plug on or scaled back its three-day festival.
Mr Bush admitted there was a “real risk” to the future of the event, which is set to be reviewed by councillors this year, in the wake of concerns about its impact on the city centre, their commercial nature and the “Disneyfication” of Edinburgh for events.
But he said the city could lose the right to promote itself as “the world’s leading festival city” if it did not secure the long-term future of the 27-year-old Hogmanay event.
A “root-and-branch” review of Edinburgh’s Christmas and Hogmanay events was ordered last summer by the city council – months after the launch of a campaign to “defend” Edinburgh against over-tourism, the privatisation of public space and the impact of “festivalisation”.
The city council came under fire in the autumn when it emerged that senior officials had given Underbelly, the events firm that has an £800,000 contract to produce the festivals, the green light to use more of East Princes Street Gardens than ever before for a festive market, rides and attractions.It later emerged that extensive new infrastructure erected over the park did not have planning permission.
The Hogmanay festival was dogged by controversy over the need for residents inside the official street party arena to have passes to get to their own homes, the impact of event infrastructure on the city centre, and the removal of a nativity scene and the city’s Norwegian Christmas tree to make way for a whisky sponsor’s branding.
However hotel industry leaders have warned the city is at risk of being seen as "anti-tourist" around due to the level of criticism of the events, much of it concerning arrangements for the all-ticket Hogmanay event, which have been in place for years.
Mr Bush said: “We should not forget that the Hogmanay event has been going for more than 25 years, incredibly successfully.
“It brings in a huge amount of economic benefit to the city, not just in terms of hotel bed nights and spending on food and drink, but also in terms of employment.
“It also brings a huge amount of profile to the city on the international stage. Let’s have a mature, careful discussion about how to take it forward.
“We need Hogmanay in Edinburgh. It’s an important part of the events landscape, the cultural landscape and the city’s landscape. I’m a passionate advocate of Edinburgh as the world’s leading festival city. We can’t afford to lose that. It drives a lot of interest in Edinburgh throughout the year. It’s not just about the month of August or three days over Hogmanay.
“There is undoubtedly a real risk to the event at the moment. This is a time for cool, calm reflection, not rash, knee-jerk reactions. You have to take a really balanced view and also respect the views of everybody. You cannot just ignore what people are saying.
“It’s really important that the consultation the council is going to undertake is meaningful and takes in the views of all parties. If Edinburgh was to pull back from the event or scale it back, it would be a huge economic and reputational risk for the city.”