My Column

We owe tourists not to go off the rails.

  • Date: Monday 9th September 2019
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It’s now two weeks since the thrilling conclusion of 2019’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe and I think it’s fair to say that it was one of the most successful and busiest years yet.

Every August, crowds flock to Scotland’s capital from far and wide to enjoy this feast of entertainment that takes place in the heart of the city.

Of course it’s fantastic that the festival is so nationally and internationally renowned – it brings a wealth of tourism opportunities for both Edinburgh and Scotland and is a hugely welcome boost to the economy.

However, I was really disappointed to read about the train chaos which unfolded during this particularly busy period.

Commuters faced travel disruption, overcrowding and delays right across the month, with some visitors even stranded in the capital as a result of cancellations.

This came to a head on the final weekend with an unfortunately timed Scotland v France rugby match also taking place at Murrayfield on the Saturday.

ScotRail has since announced that it is reviewing how it plans for major events after services were plunged into mayhem.

But it begs the question – why was an international rugby match allowed to take place on the busiest festival weekend? And why aren’t we equipped to deal with a predictably large influx of visitors to this most popular of tourist cities?

Indeed, Edinburgh visitor numbers rose by a whopping 18 per cent from 2013 to 2018, which equates to half a million extra people and means overcrowded pavements, traffic jams, noise pollution, and most pertinently in light of recent problems, a strain on services.

This figure is likely to have climbed even higher by the end of 2019. When you consider that this rise alone will be higher than Edinburgh’s actual indigenous population, it’s clear that there’s a significant issue.

Visitors to Edinburgh are estimated to spend some £1.5bn annually, supporting around 34,800 jobs, but what happens when the balance is tipped in the wrong direction and the city’s most attractive aspects start to suffer through pollution, overuse, and crowding?

More needs to be done to equip the city for it to be able to deal with growing tourism. Edinburgh is naturally a beautiful place and Scotland should be proud to host two major events of this kind. The last thing we want is for tourists to avoid making the trip for fear of travel disruption and a poor experience.

So how is ScotRail attempting to tackle the rail issue? Puzzlingly, the temporary closure of Waverley or Haymarket stations is an option being considered, but this seems like it would only cause more travel chaos elsewhere.

The operator believes that introducing ‘quota controls’ on the busiest days would help them to better manage large volumes of passengers. This, it says, could include special trains or ticket types with restrictions such as day and time of travel.

I don’t know about you, but that really doesn’t sound like a solution to me.

 

We must ensure that Scotland’s railways run smoothly and a discussion needs to be had on more effectively managing the flow of people in and out of stations during busy periods.

We must also consider the walk-in nature of our stations and what can be done to prevent overcrowding.

If we are willing to welcome tourists into the capital and pocket their money, then we have a duty of care to get them home safely.

Scottish tourism can’t remain a one-way street – we can’t keep packing in visitors without consideration for the wider, longer-term impacts.

 

SIDE

Good news for all you lovebirds - EasyJet is to launch a new service between Edinburgh and picturesque Verona.

The Italian city, best known as the setting for Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet, will now have a year-round service direct from the Scottish capital.

The new route will be the airline’s 40th destination from Edinburgh, with the first flight departing from Scotland on 7 December. For those looking to book a winter break, the flight will operate on Tuesdays and Saturdays on an A320 aircraft.

Beyond the heart-shaped kitsch and Renaissance romance, Verona is a bustling city packed with cultural attractions and countless architectural gems. The flight path will not only open up the city to Scottish travellers but will be ideal for those looking to explore further into northern Italy – from the skiing delights of the Dolomites during the winter season, the stunning history of the uniquely wonderful city of Venice, and the natural beauty of Lake Garda are all only a short train ride away.

The announcement comes not long after the airline reached the 50 million passenger milestone at Edinburgh Airport, an encouraging sign despite Holyrood scrapping plans to abolish Air Passenger Duty earlier this year – a policy that would have encouraged airlines to pursue operations in Scotland.

Edinburgh Airport only recently announced that July 2019 saw 1,508,586 passengers pass through Scotland’s busiest airport – a record number and up 6.3 per cent on the previous year.

Providing a regular link to Verona will only enhance this, while encouraging Italian tourists in the opposite direction with all the benefits that brings for our economy.

Despite the looming uncertainly of Brexit and the weakening of the pound, it seems Scots are still pouncing on travel deals and booking their breaks to the sun - and with our current weather who can blame them?

 

LAUGH

I had to laugh when I spotted last week that a cinema in Edinburgh was handing out ‘comfort kits’ to nervous customers ahead of a screening of hotly anticipated horror sequel IT: Chapter Two.

They weren’t clowning around.

The kits at Vue Edinburgh Ocean included blankets to hide behind, stress balls for horror-induced anxiety, and ear plugs to block out the scariest scenes.

It’s perhaps just as well given a survey found that over a third of Auld Reekie residents describe themselves as a ‘hider’ – people who hide behind cushions during the scariest scenes.

Shockingly, over a fifth of Edinburgh cinema goers have had to leave a screening because the film was too frightening.

IT will definitely be on my must-see list – and I definitely won’t be leaving early.

 

WEEP

I was appalled to see that Marks & Spencer is to be demoted from the FTSE 100 for the first time since the index was established 35 years ago.

The shopping institution’s relegation to the FTSE 250 follows news that it is to cut back its bricks and mortar operations even further with the closure of 120 stores.

Often used as a barometer of UK retail health, M&S’s share price is at a 20-year low thanks largely to long-running issues within its clothing arm, and further compounded by our ongoing high street crisis.

It’s sad to see any retail stalwart struggling but M&S certainly won’t be the last to find itself in the FTSE 250, with Sainsbury’s, Morrison and B&Q all thought to be contenders for relegation in future.

 

 

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