Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Edinburgh: how good... or bad?

I had an interesting discussion this afternoon, where it was pointed out to me that Edinburgh City Council has a serious problem with its finances. As such that it needs to sell its assets (e.g. India Building, Royal High School) and make several thousand employees redundant to address its deficit. Not to dismiss the pain of those being made redundant, Edinburgh appears to have become a developer’s scramble to grab prime sites - but for what purpose? Hotels and offices?  But how much affordable housing? Commercial gain at the cost of that which sustains the city - its community. This appears to be a very short sighted strategy that perhaps does not bode well for Edinburgh long-term. 

Indeed, what is the long-term future of Edinburgh? There is a Humblebum song  "Why Don't They Come Back to Dunoonwww.youtube.com/watch?v=4ruwmeWFqyc. Perhaps it will be, in the not too distant future: "Why Don't They Come Back to Edinburgh”. There is, perhaps an arrogant view, that visitors will come to Edinburgh because it is Edinburgh. Why? Especially with the apparent current trend to rapidly commodify the city. Moreover, there appears to be an assumption that Edinburgh is doing well as a tourism destination.

It is reported in the Edinburgh Evening News that a chief executive  states "city leaders “shouldn’t underestimate how well regarded Edinburgh is worldwide”  www.edinburghnews.scotsman.com/news/marketing-chief-hails-scheme-for-royal-high-hotel-1-3949120#ixzz3rmQcvMsb. But high regard does not bring visitors to Edinburgh. Indeed, does anyone know what has brought visitors to Edinburgh in 2015? Moreover, why do VisitScotland statistics suggest that people are staying fewer nights in Edinburgh compared to 2006? (see earlier blog). This CEO  is also reported as stating: “If Edinburgh wants to be premium city, it has to behave like one”.  www.edinburghnews.scotsman.com/news/marketing-chief-hails-scheme-for-royal-high-hotel-1-3949120#ixzz3rmQcvMsb But, does a 'premier city’ have apparent popularity as a destination for hen and stag nights? How dependent is Edinburgh upon this market for out of season trade? It is further stated that  “A music school will not add to Edinburgh’s attraction from an international point of view.” www.edinburghnews.scotsman.com/news/marketing-chief-hails-scheme-for-royal-high-hotel-1-3949120#ixzz3rmQcvMsb. Is a school going to attract any less visitors than a hotel? Yet he supports the transformation of the Royal High School into a hotel, that is arguably unsuited to be a five star hotel, irrespective of claims by developers. Visitors do not come to a destination for a hotel unless it has something special to offer. Where is the publicly available business case to support the case for a hotel on the Royal High School site? It is not the first time that 'quality' hotels have moved downmarket. How quickly will this proposed hotel become 'budget'? 

I suggest there is a desperate need for a national debate about the long term future of Edinburgh, which is the second most popular destination in the UK. VisitScotland numbers suggest that visitors (both domestic and international) are spending less nights in Scotland (see previous blog). Scottish tourism is in part dependent upon the success of Edinburgh. However, I suggest that Edinburgh is squandering its heritage (see earlier blog) for short term gain. What attractions has Edinburgh developed that reflects heritage - culture? How long does it take for a visitor to ‘do’ Edinburgh as a destination? Why would a visitor want to come back? And all the other questions….. If Edinburgh cannot get it right then what hope for the rest of Scotland?

Is Edinburgh following a strategy of short term gain for long term pain? Perhaps (and it is only 'perhaps' - other solutions invited) it would be better that the City of Edinburgh Council declares bankruptcy so that a long term strategy for social, economic and sustainable development is put in place - for the benefit of those who live in Edinburgh  - its community.  

Monday, 9 November 2015

Is there a problem?

There is a perplexing situation in Scotland and specifically Edinburgh. The first concerns visitor numbers to both Scotland and Edinburgh, which appear to be currently stagnating, though are apparently below levels seen in 2006. Second is the growth of hotel accommodation in Edinburgh, mainly by the larger hotel chains - is this sustainable?  Third, are the recommendations of the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) / United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)  on sustainable tourism, which draws attention to the importance of the community, though it is unclear how important a factor the community is in the development proposals for Edinburgh's 12 development sites: www.investinedinburgh.com/the-edinburgh-12/


The analysis of the statistics provided by VisitScotland suggests a problem both nationally and for Edinburgh, assuming, of course, that these statistics portray a reasonable picture of what is actually happening. There is a disclaimer attached to the reports providing these statistics. Sadly, the most recent reported statistics are deficient for Edinburgh's overseas figures. The statistics for Edinburgh from 2011 have been adjusted, based upon national figures, to include N. Ireland, due to a change in the manner of their reporting.

In sum, at the national level, whilst spend might be up, the number of nights spent in Scotland appears to be in decline if not static  and the duration of stay appears in decline, if not static. Edinburgh does not appear to be faring much better. Remember that 2014 was a year with events (e.g. Commonwealth Games, Homecoming, Ryder Cup), which should have attracted overseas visitors, but how successful was this?

Source for both tables: www.visitscotland.org/research_and_statistics/tourismstatistics.aspx Whilst every effort has been made to ensure the data is correct, it is advisable to cross-check with original source in the event there has been an error introduced (updated 22.Nov.2015). 

What are the statistics for 2015? They are not yet available. However, the VisitScotland Trend Report for October reveals that there was a 6.4% fall in nights spent by domestic visitors to Scotland for the month of June 2015 from the previous year! To add, a 1.2% fall in spend!

What is happening, or is anything happening?


Whilst there appears to be no growth in the number of nights spent in Scotland, nor in Edinburgh, there does appear to be growth in serviced accommodation provision in Edinburgh. The 2014 Hotel Development Schedule
(www.edinburgh.gov.uk/info/20194/development_activity_reports/1032/development_activity_bulletin ) reveals targets of providing between 2,800 and 4,000 hotel bedrooms by 2015, a target which appears to be based on the defunct 2006 Tourism Framework for Change, which had ambitious growth targets.  This Schedule reveals that, since 2007, 3,128 rooms had been completed, with 2,979 inferred to be in progress, thus, in total, exceeding the upper target of 4,000 by 153%. Moreover, that hotel chains, particularly four, appear to be acquiring an increasingly large share (40%?) of serviced accommodation provision. However, it is unclear the uptake of Airbnb, though a visit to the website suggests that there are a large number of properties offering accommodation. To add, is the growing provision of student accommodation, available during the holiday season for tourists.

Is there really a need for more hotels in Edinburgh? Where is the justification? Moreover, how many of the 'Edinburgh 12' have hotel proposals embedded in their plans for site development? In view of arguments supporting the development of four-five star hotels, is there really demand?  What are the profiles of visitors to Edinburgh? Does anyone know?

In contrast, how much development is there orientated towards developing the local community, which introduces the next issue?


The Edinburgh Council Vision on sustainability is:
Edinburgh in 2020 will be a low carbon, resource efficient city, delivering a resilient local economy and vibrant flourishing communities in a rich natural setting.
Among its objectives, is to "have a new trademark – the “Sustainable City” – attracting visitors, industry and investors(Sustainable Edinburgh 2020 - The City of Edinburgh Council)

In 2005, the UNWTO/UNEP published an important document:  'Making Tourism More Sustainable, A guide for policy makers'(www.unep.fr/shared/publications/pdf/DTIx0592xPA-TourismPolicyEN.pdf). This draws attention to the Three Pillars of Sustainability: Economic,  Environmental and Social, the latter drawing attention to community. Moreover, it outlines twelve aims for sustainable tourism:

The community appears to be an important feature for any location to call itself sustainable.


So, to conclude, what is happening? Drawing upon my studies of the development of the Royal Mile (http://drsharwood.blogspot.co.uk/p/blog-page.html)  and assessment of documents relating to Edinburgh as a destination, I have to ask the question of whether Edinburgh is commodifying itself to the detriment of its culture and heritage. There is clearly an interest in developing hotels and other forms of temporary accommodation. What is being done to develop its cultural and heritage offering? How prevalent is the view that it is a good place to party [i.e. hen / stag nights] and see comedians in the festival? Can it be assumed that visitors will come to Edinburgh because it is EDINBURGH? Indeed, can it be assumed that visitors will continually come to Edinburgh for any reason? The UNWTO 2015 Tourism Highlights report (http://mkt.unwto.org/publication/unwto-tourism-highlights-2015-edition) forecasts 3.3% annual growth in arrivals, worldwide, between 2010 and 2030. 

What is Edinburgh's and Scotland's performance relative to this? What is going on? 

Moreover, what is being done to maintain a healthy community in the centre of Edinburgh, especially in the Old Town? Or is the museumification of the Old Town the inevitable price for an apparent commodification strategy for its economic development?