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Why it’s not ‘tacky’ to want to share Edinburgh with tourists – Liz McAreavey

Posted: 24th January 2020

With 2019 now firmly behind us and our focus now on a new decade, I am genuinely disappointed by the criticism that has followed another successful Winter Festival.

I think it’s time we all took a breath and started a balanced and adult conversation about how tourism benefits the city and how tourists and citizens can exist side by side. We need to move away from apocryphal stories, hearsay and rants from keyboard warriors and embrace evidence, data and the real views of all stakeholders in the city to take this important sector forward.

There is a tendency to hear criticism from a small minority who seem to think they speak for the whole city. There will always be those who shout louder, but offer no solutions and do not contribute positively to the debate. As a business organisation representing many businesses in the tourism sector, Edinburgh Chamber wants to ensure tourism is responsible, sustainable and inclusive. The new Tourism Strategy Edinburgh 2030 outlines the ambition and vision to achieve this.

There can barely be a sector in the city who has not benefited in some way from tourism. A rich cultural diversity, significant employment, a vibrant social scene, city animation and events, and investment into the maintenance of our heritage and built environment. This creates a quality of life which attracts talent to ensure our businesses thrive, the brightest students who ensure our universities maintain their world class status and global investment ensuring our economy is strong.

Without doubt there are unacceptable inequalities in our city and we all have a responsibility to address this. Tourism has a big part to play. Over 36,000 jobs are supported directly by tourism, but this figure could be four times greater if we look at the supply chain of delivery drivers, maintenance workers, taxi drivers, logistics, legal and finance support for the many businesses involved in hospitality, venues, transport and tourism. Jobs in tourism are a fantastic entry point for many people with most jobs requiring a ‘can do’ attitude rather than qualifications. Most training is given on the job with customer service and digital skills being very transferable into other sectors. It is a VERY inclusive sector, and one which is very important to the Scottish economy. Edinburgh is also the gateway to the rest of the country with 60% of visitors to Scotland coming via its capital city.

Significant investment is attracted to an international, welcoming and open city. Edinburgh St James is a perfect example of Edinburgh bucking the UK trend of city centre retail investment. It alone will create 3000 new jobs, with an extensive outreach and training programme established to support these jobs. There are a number of 4 and 5 Star hotels opening this year, reflecting the type of visitor we wish to attract and who want to enjoy what Edinburgh has to offer.

Yes, we need to manage our city centre and our visitors – what city doesn’t? London seeks to manage congestion and pollution of its city centre by monitoring vehicles and charging for access. No doubt Edinburgh will bring in its own measures for city centre management around reducing emissions and congestion, irrespective of tourism. Protecting our city and addressing sustainability and the climate emergency is a priority and the tourism sector will get behind this.

Edinburgh has an abundance of wonderful natural and architectural heritage to enjoy, alongside an animated and fun programme of events that stimulate, entertain and thrill. Edinburgh is a historic and progressive city, it is certainly not ‘tacky’ as some would suggest. Without doubt there are always lessons to be learned and improvements to be made but we have a city to be proud of and one which we should warmly share. We have a lot to be thankful for in many ways.

Business Comment

Business Comment is the Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce’s bi-monthly magazine. It provides insight on Edinburgh’s vibrant business community, with features on the city’s key sectors, interviews with leading figures and news on new business developments in the capital.
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