HE is Glasgow born and bred. But it is difficult to imagine a more passionate advocate for the city of Edinburgh than John Donnelly.

The chief executive of Marketing Edinburgh, the part council, part membership funded body charged with driving tourism, leisure and conference business to the city, has resided in the Scottish capital for 22 years.

The Athens of the North has remained his anchor in an itinerant working life, which has included long stints working on big brands for major agencies in London.

Edinburgh remained his home during the three years he spent as marketing and sponsorship director for Glasgow 2014, heading the team that created the branding for last year’s Commonwealth Games. He would leave to set up his own consultancy, which remains in operation, before the event finally got underway, but takes “enormous pride” in the Games’ achievements.

While the requirements of the job dictate that he must spread the gospel for the Scottish capital, it is clear his love of his adopted city runs deep. That much is clear when he is discussing the record-breaking Festival Fringe are the city’s myriad tourism assets.

Mr Donnelly has no time for the enmity that is perceived to govern relations between Scotland’s two biggest cities, Glasgow and Edinburgh.

“I think Glasgow and Edinburgh are very complementary,” he said. “I think they should be used as complementary partners, as opposed to deadliest rivals. I don’t get it.

“They are 45 to 50 minutes apart – they’ve got complementary assets.”

Not only does he feel the two cities offering a compelling, joint package for visitors, Mr Donnelly thinks there may even be scope for collaboration, perhaps even between Marketing Edinburgh and its counterpart, Glasgow City Marketing Bureau.

Backing up his point, he notes that while Glasgow has put itself on the world sporting map with the Commonwealth Games and has enjoyed the “monumental success” of music venue The Hydro, Edinburgh can offer the attractions that have given in UNESCO world heritage status, whether it’s the Old Town, New Town, castle or record breaking Fringe Festival, which last year was worth £261m to the Scottish economy as a whole.

“The cities could work closer together,” Mr Donnelly said. “I’m sure there will be opportunities going forward.

“Where there is opportunity, let’s work together.”

Of course, when it comes to competing for conference business, Glasgow and Edinburgh are, and always will be, rivals.

But, in this global age, Edinburgh’s competitor set is not confined to the British Isles.

Mr Donnelly rhymes off the likes of Vienna, Stockholm and Chicago among the tens of cities Edinburgh must now compete with to win conference and events business.

And he had positive news to progress on this front, noting that, working with partners such as the Edinburgh Hotel Association, Edinburgh Exhibition and Conference Centre and the University of Edinburgh, the city had attracted a “record” £91.5 million of conference business in 2014.

“It’s a very, very competitive world out there,” Mr Donnelly said. “As Edinburgh, we really don’t compete with anyone in the UK for conferences – we compete with European cities. We’ll find ourselves more often on pitch lists with the likes of Barcelona, Vienna and Stockholm.”

The progress has continued into this year. In spite of “stiff targets”, the figures for 2015 are “running ahead” of schedule. Mr Donnelly also noted that Edinburgh had moved up nine places in the ICCA (International Congress and Convention Association) rankings of global destinations for conferences, to 31 from 40. It means Edinburgh is now second only to London in the rankings in the UK.

Emphasising the importance of business tourism to the city’s well-being, Mr Donnelly said efforts were being helped by greater collaboration between Marketing Edinburgh and the EICC (Edinburgh International Conference Centre). He noted that the arrival of Marshall Dallas as EICC chief executive has led to a more a more effective working partnership between the two organisations.

“There is a lot of collaboration in the city,” Mr Donnelly said. “When I first joined there wasn’t, but in the last couple of years it has moved on enormously.”

“We really got to market a lot more cohesively than we ever did. It makes a big difference, and the numbers are starting to stack up to show that.”

As well as citing greater teamwork in the city’s business tourism effort, Mr Donnelly outlined the benefits of Edinburgh’s status as a founder member of the Best Cities Global Alliance.

A worldwide convention bureau, which aims to raise standards and share knowledge across the sector, the alliance comprises 10 member cities, including Vancouver, Chicago and Houston.

“Having a seat at the table means we get knowledge,” said Mr Donnelly, noting that Edinburgh recently contributed to the group’s new marketing communications strategy.

“We can then position ourselves globally, which is what we are doing, because we can learn from the best cities in the world.”

The international dimension to Marketing Edinburgh’s work was underlined when it secured investment to promote the city at the IMEX America conference in Las Vegas last year.

Through its new corporate partnership scheme, the organisation used funding from members to take represent Edinburgh for the first time at the event, which Mr Donnelly said resulted in conference enquiries with a potential £17.5m back to Scotland.

Asked whether the city has enough conference capacity to meet demand for its growing convention programme, Mr Donnelly noted there is enough meeting space.

But he admits challenges lie in ensuring the conference programme is spread throughout the year, as well as in “ensuring the city has enough hotel beds.”

“You have tie the conference venue into the hotels – if you bring in 2000 delegates you need to find 2000 bedrooms,” he explained. “Between the months of June and September that’s not going to happen because of all the festivals and the summer tourist trade.

“The opportunity lies for us is in the quieter months – October through to March. We are being much more focused on pitching for conferences to come at that time of year.”

Building on the theme, he explained that a key part of the strategy is to attract not just more conferences but visitors generally outside the peak tourism months between March and October.

He said there is strong demand for an increase in the five-star hotel stock in the city from more affluent visitors, and cited projects such as the £850m hotel, residential and retail project at the St James’s centre and the hotel plan for the Old Royal High School as welcome developments.

Bringing people to the city is not the solitary function of Marketing Edinburgh, whose membership now stands at a record 250. The fees from members, which range from florists and tax drivers to hotels and universities, is one of its most significant revenue sources.

One of the first major pieces of work to be overseen in his role has been to launch a campaign to attract locals back into the city after the havoc caused by the prolonged tram works.

The £1m campaign, This is Edinburgh, was launched last February, funded and led by Marketing Edinburgh, the council and the city’s BID (business improvement district). The two-year event, which is shortly coming to an end, has featured television commercials, events and outdoor and digital ads.

And it looks to have made an impact, if social media statistics are a guide. This is Edinburgh has so far attracted 65,000 Twitter followers, 120,000 likes on Facebook, and an average of 70,000 unique visitors to the campaign website each month.

Mr Donnelly said that if the campaign meets its targets - chiefly an increase in footfall two per cent above the UK average and above average increase in UK retail sales – it will drive an “incremental £50m of spend – an ROI (return in investment) of 50 to one.

“And we are delighted to say it is well on track to achieve that,” he noted.

In spite of the strides taken at Marketing Edinburgh in the last two and a half years, Mr Donnelly believes there is still much to do.

And it is a role he clearly relishes. “In the past I used to market brands – people like Orange and Coca-Cola and Puegeot – but this has a much deeper connection,” he said, “ because the city you live in, you breathe it, you walk in it, you work it. You see it evolving through the year.

“There is a really deep connection there. It would be very difficult, actually, to market something else with the same degree of passion.”