VISITOR NUMBERS - SCOTLAND AND EDINBURGH
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?
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?
THE TOURISM OFFERING IN EDINBURGH: accommodation
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.
(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:
1) ECONOMIC VIABILITY
2) LOCAL PROSPERITY
3) EMPLOYMENT QUALITY
4) SOCIAL EQUITY
5) VISITOR FULFILMENT
6) LOCAL CONTROL
7) COMMUNITY WELLBEING
8) CULTURAL RICHNESS
9) PHYSICAL INTEGRITY
10) BIOLOGICAL DIVERSITY
11) RESOURCE EFFICIENCY
12) ENVIRONMENTAL PURITY
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?