Edinburgh can’t cope with booming tourism, official report warns

Princes Street is a pressure point, the report warns
Princes Street is a pressure point, the report warns
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Edinburgh is struggling to cope with the mass influx of visitors to the city during its major festivals, according to a damning new dossier.

Increasing problems with tourism “bottlenecks” in the Old and New Towns, the domination of souvenir shops, the impact of irresponsible property owners and the inability of people to “get on with normal life” have all been identified by the city council’s research.

January is out of the winter and summer 'peaks' of Edinburgh tourism

January is out of the winter and summer 'peaks' of Edinburgh tourism

It highlighted Princes Street as a particular area of concern, warning that pedestrian space “does not meet demand” in either summer or winter peaks.

Urgent action has now been 
ordered to tackle growing pressure on the city’s roads, pavements and public transport network after the wide-ranging infrastructure review, including the introduction of new footfall and traffic counters.

The introduction of an “Oyster card” system is also being explored after the council admitted the public transport experience in the city centre was “lagging behind” London and commuters were growing frustrated with the reliability of journey times.

The audit of how Edinburgh is handling tourism during peak periods in the summer and winter was ordered in the wake of concerns from heritage bodies that the city was becoming “dysfunctional” due to the vast numbers of people flooding into the busiest areas.

Overcrowding at certain pinch-points can lead to pedestrians stepping onto the road and into bus lanes. Anecdotally, near misses are not uncommon

Donald Wilson, the city council’s culture leader, said today it was important to take steps to understand the “impact of 
tourism”.

Plans to monitor the impact of the festivals have been announced just days before a major tourism industry summit will tackle how to “manage the success” of the industry.

The city council has drawn up a 16-point “scorecard” to help monitor key areas of concern and the most serious “pressure points,” although several changes are expected to be made this summer.

The dossier, entitled “Managing Our Festival City,” is accompanied by a separate report on the growth of Edinburgh’s tourism industry, which is believed to support 34,800 jobs and be worth around £1.46 billion to the city’s economy.

The report states: “Pavement crowding is a very real concern for residents and visitors in the city centre, during the summer and winter festivals periods.

“Overcrowding at certain pinch-points can lead to pedestrians stepping onto the road and into bus lanes.

“Anecdotally, near misses are not uncommon, however there is no data to measure this.

“Varying footway widths, and local factors from street furniture, tables and chairs licenses, vehicle barriers, station exits, high volume bus stops,or crowds around street performers, can create pinch-points across the Old and New Town areas.”

A complete overhaul of the city centre is expected to be carried out to try to increase space for pedestrians, ease pressure on the busiest areas for events, and improve the safety of busy thoroughfares like Princes Street and the Royal Mile, and monitor the impact of increased traffic levels on air quality.

Concerns over the impact the festivals are having on the “quality of life” of local residents are also expected to be tackled, including noise from open-air concerts and the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo, and disruption from “inconsiderate” buskers and open-top bus tours around the city centre.

Among the key measures being taken are the drawing up of a public spaces protocol to ensure “fair end times” for festival shows and events being staged in public places where local residents live nearby.

Around 100 new traffic counters will be deployed to help keep the city moving during the main festival seasons and manage “sudden pressures” on the roads network.

The area closed to traffic for street entertainers during the Edinburgh Festival Fringe is expected to be overhauled for this summer, amid concerns about the growing risk of pedestrians stepping into traffic when they are entering or leaving.

The city has seen visitor numbers soar by more than half a million in the past five years to 3.85 million. Growth of 18 per cent in visitor numbers and 30 per cent in what they are spending has outstripped the UK average over the same period.

However, the industry is pursuing a target of boosting visitor numbers by a further third by 2020 and generate an additional £485 million.

A part element of the latest strategy being followed by the Edinburgh Tourism Action Group, the independent industry body, is to boost the number of visits to the city between October and March by around 50 per cent.

The city council insisted Edinburgh is not experiencing the same “tourism pressures” that have forced the authorities in locations like Venice, Barcelona and Amsterdam to take measures to cap visitor numbers.

However the authority said its new “reporting system” would allow it to better understand and tackle specific challenges during peak periods.

The report states: “Footfall counters in the city show 
increasing numbers of pedestrians each year. A review of potential options to improve available pedestrian space during peak times is under way by council officers.

“One known pinch-point area in summer time is near the High Street Fringe event, where pedestrians leaving or approaching the event area step into traffic lanes to avoid pavements. This issue has reached a point where there is an acknowledged need to manage the area differently in August, and to test ways to expand available space, and so reduce opportunity for conflict between vehicles and pedestrians.

“Princes Street remains an issue of concern. Pedestrian space on Princes Street does not meet demand in either summer or winter peaks.

“The footfall counter clocked an average of 45,000 people per day in August 2017, more than double the June 2017 average of 21,870 per day. The pressure on pavement space during peak periods is most evident when pedestrians are waiting to cross at junctions.

“An appetite to better address pedestrian needs, and to manage the impact of buses on Princes Street, has been highlighted by residents through the City Vision 2050 exercise, and this issue must be explored in the context of discussions on how the city can continue to successfully manage increasing demand for public transport as well as demands for pedestrian space, in the context of population growth.”

Donald Wilson, the city council’s culture leader, said: “For the majority of residents, our festivals are part of what makes Edinburgh such a special place to live and the envy of the world.

“With a visitor-to-resident ratio greatly below that of other European cities, it is fair to say that the tourism pressures facing Edinburgh – while important to address – are a long way off from other capital cities and major tourist destinations.

“That said, as a city with a growing population, it certainly seems sensible to take steps towards a better understanding of the impact of tourism on our city and most importantly its citizens.

“The development of the new scorecard system will help us actively monitor and minimise adverse impacts on citizens, particularly during our festival months.

“I’m hopeful the new approach will improve local people’s access to and enjoyment of the city’s attractions, and help us improve support towards the festivals’ sustainable growth.”

Robin Worsnop, chair of the Edinburgh Tourism Action Group, said: “Edinburgh has grown to become one of the world’s most appealing visitor destination. Managing this success is a key pillar of our Edinburgh 2020 strategy. As the city garners more attention from around the globe, we’re working to ensure there is a balance and that the whole city benefits from our visitors.”

There were growing calls from politicians and heritage bodies last summer for the city’s festivals calendar to be more spread out during the year and geographically across Edinburgh to allow the city to better “manage” tourist numbers.

The council dossier has been published just weeks after the city’s main marketing body warned that Edinburgh was being held back by a lack of ambition, too much complacency and claims that it has become over-run by visitors. Marketing Edinburgh admitted the tourism sector is “under-rated and can be unloved” but insisted the city could not afford to give the impression it was full.

John Donnelly, chief executive of Marketing Edinburgh, said: “Tourism is a vital economic artery for Edinburgh - generating a massive £1.46 billion for the economy and providing over 34,800 jobs. Over the past decade, we’ve successfully established its global status. With the growing success, we’re working to ensure the city is having regular balanced debates on the best ways to manage this.”