Two thirds of Edinburgh hotel rooms set to lie empty in city's 'worst month ever' for tourism

The Capital’s hotel industry has warned businesses have been left “on their knees.”

The normally bustling Royal Mile has been bereft of visitors since lockdown restrictions were eased.
The normally bustling Royal Mile has been bereft of visitors since lockdown restrictions were eased.

Fears are growing over the prospect of widespread job losses in Edinburgh tourism industry as it emerged that two-thirds of the city’s hotels rooms may be left lying empty this month.The absence of the festivals, a slump in overseas visitors, the closure of attractions and a reluctance by UK holidaymakers to book city breaks is said to have brought the capital to the brink of “the worst month ever for tourism in Edinburgh”.

The Edinburgh Hotels Association has said businesses have been left “on their knees and in financial crisis” due to the dramatic drop in business compared with recent summers.

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It has warned that it will be “impossible” for many hotels in the city to be profitable before next spring, and said high levels of unemployment were “inevitable” if the UK government’s furlough scheme ends in the autumn.

The warnings have emerged days after Edinburgh Airport revealed plans to make around a third of its workforce redundant.

The hotels group, which represents 50 of the city’s key players, also claims Edinburgh has been left at a “huge disadvantage” compared with other cities across Europe because marketing of the city to visitors has not resumed since the mid-July reopening date for Scottish tourism was announced on June 10.

It says the city is also lagging behind other destinations in Scotland and around the UK because of a controversial decision to wind up the Marketing Edinburgh agency.

However, the city council and the Edinburgh Tourism Action Group (ETAG), who are developing a campaign to lure back visitors which will launch later this month, insist it is crucial to get the timing right because many attractions and other businesses are not open yet.

The growing popularity of Edinburgh as an international tourism destination has led to the creation of 5000 new hotel rooms in the city over the last decade.

Edinburgh’s festivals attracted an overall audience of 4.4 million last August and helped hotel occupancy levels soar above 90 per cent. However, advance bookings for the month this year are running at just 22 per cent and the hotels group said they would struggle to get above 40 per cent without a late surge in bookings.

Spokesman Russell Imrie said: “The festivals provide the financial benefits to these businesses for them to be able to trade through the loss-making months.

"When they were called off, immediate additional financial support should have been introduced and there should have been an extensive marketing plan for the city as soon as the hospitality industry reopened.

"This has not been possible due to the decision to close the city’s destination marketing body. Edinburgh is the only major European capital without one.

“There are crisis levels of hotel occupancy for August at the moment and there will need to be a very substantial uplift in bookings to come anywhere nearly 40-50 per cent. I don’t think that will occur.

“Hotels are faced with the double blow of selling many less rooms at a substantially reduced rate.

“August is here and no amount of marketing or promotional activity now will affect Edinburgh hotel occupancy in a meaningful way. August is going to be the worst month ever for tourism in Edinburgh.

"Most hotels have started redundancies and employment levels in hotels are already substantially reduced. The demand is just not there to support the employment levels that hotels had in early March before coronavirus struck.

"It is highly likely that there will be business casualties of hotels in Edinburgh.”

Council leader Adam McVey said: “We’re working closely with partners to launch a new campaign, putting residents’ enjoyment of the city at its heart, to promote Edinburgh as the incredible destination it is and to encourage much-needed footfall back.

“We’re only just coming out of the other side of the Covid-19 emergency and the return to a new normal has to be gradual.

It has been little over a fortnight since hotels, bars and restaurants could begin to welcome visitors again, with many venues and attractions still putting re-opening plans in place.

“Getting the timing right for marketing the city is crucial so it is better equipped to welcome residents and visitors back in a way which is safe for everyone.

“I’m very conscious that this has been an unprecedented challenge for the industry, unlike anything we have faced before, and that hotels are keen to see guests return again.

“Our long-term economic recovery must also focus on supporting the city’s visitor and hospitality appeal to remain strong.”

ETAG chairman Donald Emslie said: “We will be launching a … campaign which will cover all tourism and hospitality sectors and highlight everything Edinburgh has to offer.

“It has taken a long time to get the campaign ready but we felt there was no point in marketing the city when people couldn’t get here, nothing was open and everybody was concerned about their health and safety.

“We were determined not to rush the campaign. There was no point in doing anything that put people off.”

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