As part of this week’s Edinburgh and Lothians regional takeover, we caught up with VisitScotland Regional Leadership Director, Paula Ward, as she talks about what this means for the city as it continues its recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Which recent developments in Edinburgh are you most excited about?
"Following five years of construction, it really was fantastic to see the opening of the first phase of the incredible St James Quarter. The £1 billion retail-led lifestyle district represents a significant step in the recovery of the city, offering an array of experiences and brands unique to Scotland.
"The opening of Johnnie Walker Princes Street due later this autumn will be an exceptional addition to the capital’s range of high calibre experiences and demonstrates the confidence that international brands have in the city – these brands will play a critically important role in the city’s recovery. These flagship developments will no doubt have a knock-on effect beyond Edinburgh’s border.
"Affection for our capital has never waned – Forever Edinburgh isn’t just a consumer proposition, it’s a known truth to millions of visitors all over the world. Thankfully we are seeing that affection support the re-emergence of our industry; with the easing of restrictions a new feeling has emerged in our city. One that is gentler and celebrates our green spaces and places to relax and enjoy shared experiences with our friends and loved ones."
What does the return of the Edinburgh International Festival, the Book Festival and Fringe events mean for the city this year?
"The city has been built on the reputation of its festivals on the world stage. There really is no other place like Edinburgh when the festivals are in full flow. That’s why it’s so important to recognise the tireless efforts of festival organisers and businesses in finding a new way for them to thrive. The way they operate is a different form from what we are used to and this year may be the start of a new era for our international reputation on how we build back better.
"We hope their return will not only offer a much-needed boost to the visitor economy but that for visitors and residents they will mark a return to better days, fun-filled evenings, awakening your senses to things we haven’t been able to enjoy for over a year. Shared experiences of joy, laughter, emotion, and interest.
"Those experiences are how indelible memories are made, and our events community has worked tirelessly to be able to reopen our venues which reach right across the city. The events will bring people together in a safe and responsible way, which after the year that it has been, is definitely something to celebrate! I look forward to being able to get involved in them once again this year."
What is the biggest challenge facing the city as it continues to recover from the devastating impact of COVID-19?
"It remains an incredibly challenging time for the city and the tourism sector however it's encouraging to see green shoots emerging – demand for hotels is increasing modestly as consumer confidence returns and freedom to travel sinks in. The city is not trading at pre-covid levels and I don’t anticipate it will do so for a long time. Interest in Edinburgh as a destination for the leisure and staycation market has always been there and we look with hope to the colder months when we could see international demand unlocked and the return of the corporate and business traveller.
"It has been heartening to see tourism businesses innovate and adapt in the face of COVID-19. There have been some great additions to the food and drink scene in Edinburgh and the variety on offer to the consumer is amazing – from street food cafes to fine dining, there really is something for everyone.
"There are some great things to look forward to in the coming weeks and months, including the return of the tentpole theatre production at the Edinburgh Playhouse – which this year will be Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. Then there is also the return of the Autumn Internationals at BT Murrayfield and the Tour of Britain staging a finish at Edinburgh’s Holyrood Park. And there have been some great examples of collaboration in recent months – businesses coming together to make the most of these unprecedented times. I love the partnership between Edinburgh Zoo and Lothian Buses with the new giraffe bus – what an exciting and eye-catching way to entice families to enjoy a fun-filled family day out in Edinburgh."
What advice would you give to businesses for 2021/22?
"It's been a challenging year for the tourism and events industry, and it has been so heartening to see how hard they have worked to adapt and innovate to the conditions. The city doesn’t stand still, and throughout the past year they have shown incredible flexibility, embracing new operating procedures to ensure that they adhere to the strict health and safety guidance, while at the same time, continuing to offer a fantastic experience.
"Landmark investments and product developments, such as Johnnie Walker Princes Street, Holyrood Distillery and Gleneagles Townhouse, will help with the recovery, and the development of the UNESCO National Trail of Scotland will further offer opportunities for responsible growth in the sector.
"We recently launched the Now is Your Time domestic marketing campaign to encourage Scots and others across the UK to enjoy the unique experiences that a holiday in Scotland offers. With so many people staying in the UK this year there has never been a better time to appreciate all that our country has to offer.
"We'll continue to work with, and support, businesses to ensure we rebuild this vital part of Scotland’s economy in a safe and responsible way – focusing on creating a sector that offers value to both communities and visitors. Tourism is a force for good – creating economic and social value in every corner of Scotland and enhancing the wellbeing of everyone who experiences it."