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Edinburgh Festival to cash in on London Olympics

EDINBURGH'S festivals are embarking on a major drive to capitalise on London's Olympic Games by positioning the city as the cultural destination for the huge influx of visitors who will arrive in the UK for next year's world sporting event.

The Olympics will run for more than two weeks from July 27, 2012, coinciding with the start of Edinburgh’s main festival season.

A marketing drive is being launched this autumn to encourage tourists coming to the UK for the Olympics to incorporate a visit to Edinburgh.

Next year the campaign will also urge local visitors to experience the atmosphere on the streets of the capital during the festival month, instead of staying glued to the television watching the athletes.

It comes amid concerns that the clash in timing could impact badly on ticket sales at the seven major festivals which take place in Edinburgh in August: the Fringe, the international festival, the book festival, the art festival, the jazz festival, the military tattoo and the Mela.

Anthony Alderson, director of the Pleasance theatre, said the drive to publicise the festivals had to get under way immediately.

Describing the festival as the world’s “cultural Olympics”, he added: “Those people who have got [Olympic] tickets now are panicking about where they are going to stay and are making their plans.

“Once they have booked their flights, if they haven’t included a week of coming to Edinburgh we have missed them.

“We need to make sure we are advertising the fact the festivals exist to every single person that is coming into this country, but we have got to do it now.”

Alderson has also raised concerns over the availability of technical staff such as lighting crews and sound teams for the festivals next year, warning they may be “swallowed up” by corporate and other events around the Games in London. He said he was in discussions with a variety of artistic organisations in Germany and Finland about the availability of technicians.

But he added: “The other thing the festivals provide is a wonderful learning ground, and the opportunity for people outside of this country to come in and explore this city and see how these festivals are created is a great opportunity.

“If we are clever about this we can turn what is a big challenge into a very wonderful opportunity, we can grow this festival from a worldwide point of view.”

William Burdett-Coutts, artistic director of Assembly, said in previous years the Olympics had a negative impact on the festival when UK athletes started winning gold medals.

“People are then more likely to sit at home and watch television,” he said. “That said, there are obviously going to be more people in the country and if Edinburgh gets its act together and does a reasonable job of marketing, I think there is the opportunity to call on a new audience.

“Equally, I think a lot of our audience is local, so we just need to make an effort to make sure we don’t lose them.”

Joanna Baker, managing director of the Edinburgh International Festival (EIF), pointed out that thousands of journalists from around the world will be arriving in London to cover topics such as lifestyle and tourism, as well as the sporting events.

“I think that is a massive opportunity for Edinburgh and Scotland,” she said. “I think we should work very hard to keep those people in the UK and get them to come up to Scotland. You have got in the same country at the same time the world’s greatest sporting event and the world’s greatest cultural event.

“There is potentially a really big legacy while the eyes of the world are on the UK to capitalise on that.”

Faith Liddell, director of umbrella body Festivals Edinburgh, said work had been ongoing for the past three years to position Edinburgh as the “cultural destination of choice” during the Olympic Games, including building relationships with the travel trade and official Olympic broadcasters.

She said a phased direct-marketing campaign would begin in the autumn to encourage international visitors to come to the city’s festivals. It would then turn its focus on the domestic and UK market early next year.

“Watching the Olympic Games on telly is something a lot of people will want to do, but anyone that has been in Edinburgh at this time of year knows the atmosphere is deeply seductive,” she said.

“We fully plan to be drawing people off their sofas and onto the streets of Edinburgh and also embracing the Games as well.”

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