Heard the one about the Festival Grumblers who are bad for business?

by Scott Douglas

Wednesday, August 7th, 2013

Sexy on stilts Are grumbling locals in Rio de Janeiro given to cursing under their breath about the hassle they have to endure during the explosion of glamour and colour that is the annual Carnival?

Or do the people of New Orleans shake their heads ruefully about the noise, traffic diversions and general inconvenience caused by thousands of visitors having unregulated fun during the two weeks of Mardi Gras?

I only ask because every year I hear the moans of ordinary Edinburgh folk who see the Festival month of August as little more than a source of eyebrow-raising annoyance or frustration.

Shame really, because when the eyes of the world focus on the planet’s biggest arts festival, what they are seeing is Edinburgh being turned into a giant money-making machine, where everyone involved has an awfy good time to boot.

Where else does a city see its population double for a month and shops, pubs, restaurants, hotels, transport providers and property owners get the chance to make a financial killing on the name of unadulterated entertainment?

What is most remarkable is that the city copes with the sheer scale of the event – this year will see 2,871 shows performed by 24,107 artists in 273 venues.

Dozens of gloomy church halls, dusty university storerooms and other unlikely nooks and crannies are transformed into comedy venues, theatres or pop up food and drink outlets. Weird and wonderful venues this year include a rocket-shaped circus tent and 1960s Routemaster double-decker bus.

Almost as colourful and varied as the venues are the performers: telly-famous comedians are ten-a-penny in a city teeming with Ladyboys, scary stilt-walkers, dancers and amateur luvvies with big dreams.

The city centre becomes a model of European pavement café chic by day and a seething mass of good-time seekers by night. And detailed research shows those visitors are putting their hands deep into their pockets – spending an average daily amount between £36.50 and £69.

Let’s make no bones about it – Festival time in Edinburgh is good for tourism, good for the city and very, very good for business.

While locals simply refer to ‘the Festival’, August is actually four festivals: the Military Tattoo, the Fringe, the International Festival (with its Fireworks extravaganza) and the Book Festival.

Extensive research published in 2011 showed that those four generated £49m of new income for Edinburgh during 2010, creating the equivalent of 4339 full time jobs.Big spenders

The report, commissioned by umbrella body Festivals Edinburgh, also provided a breakdown of where the money was spent, with 6% on shopping, 9% on transport and 15% on entertainment. The lion’s share went on food and drink (34%) and accommodation (37%).

But the research – 50 separate surveys involving 15,000 people – showed benefits run even deeper, with Festival visitors far more likely to return to the city, bringing further value to the tourism, hospitality and leisure sectors.

Elsewhere audience members said they would be more adventurous about attending future cultural events, while 93% of parents said involvement boosted their kids’ imagination.

 As well as projecting Edinburgh positively to a global audience, 89% of locals said the Festivals gave them greater pride in the city. And 55% of those asked reported a boost In well-being – giving a peek into why Edinburgh topped a National Well-Being study of Britain’s 10 biggest cities.

Little wonder other parts of Scotland are keen to get in on the act. The Glasgow Box Office – at ScotRail’s Queen Street Station – will run this year, looking to build on the 19% increase in ticket sales from Glasgow in 2012.

East Lothian Council will be bringing its Wish You Were There… tourism installation to St Andrew Square during the Fringe, where passers-by will be able to get a flavour of the many visitor attractions, including beaches, on offer just down the coast

Here’s how I like to think of the benefits: Edinburgh is part of the Similar Cities Network with Aarhus in Denmark, Bologna in Italy, Ghent in Belgium, Malmo in Sweden, Stuttgart in Germany and Utrecht in the Netherlands.

Any of them would gratefully grab the benefits that Festival Edinburgh enjoys and happily suck up the minor annoyance of grease-painted leafleters on every street corner and braying Estuary English accents in every pub.

Since we can’t send them our Festival, maybe we should just send them the grumblers instead. That’ll certainly give me something to think about while on my next rickshaw ride to be entertained inside a giant purple cow.

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