By Andrew Kerr, Chief Executive of the City of Edinburgh Council and Chair of the Edinburgh Tourism Strategy Implementation Group

THE story of tourism in Edinburgh is a story of continued success, with the city experiencing a marked increase in both visits to the city and overall expenditure in recent years. Proving Edinburgh has never been more popular, nearly four million visitors now generate more than £1.47 billion in economic impact for the city’s economy, with a tremendous amount of growth occurring since 2010. Edinburgh’s strong tourist sector ensures residents, as well as Scots up and down the country, continue to benefit from a world-class city rich in festivals, attractions and culture.

Indeed, the rude health of tourism in Edinburgh is not just good for the city, but for Scotland as a whole. Edinburgh is an internationally renowned visitor destination and the jewel in the crown of Scotland’s international offer. Tourist spend in Scotland represents around five per cent of total Scottish GDP and accounts for nearly a tenth of all employment, of which Edinburgh accounts for significant portions. It is therefore not a stretch to say that it is in Scotland’s national interest to see Edinburgh’s tourist sector continue to thrive.

Ensuring Edinburgh’s visitor economy not only continues to grow, but grows sustainably and responsibly, is of paramount importance. The Edinburgh 2020 Tourism Strategy overseen by the Edinburgh Tourism Strategy Implementation Group, a senior level collaborative leadership group, has helped guide significant growth across the visitor economy. As this reaches its end-point, attention has turned to the development of a new strategy which will aim to ensure the city retains its reputation as a world-class visitor destination in the coming decades while keeping the needs of residents and businesses at its heart.

The Edinburgh Tourism Action Group hosts its annual conference at McEwan Hall today which will see the formal launch of a six-month stakeholder consultation process that will inform the development of a new 2030 Tourism Strategy. It is no secret that the growth seen by Edinburgh’s tourist sector has led to visible pressures on city services, most especially during the busy summer months in the Old and New Towns. As part of the new strategy development, we will be looking at how innovative new techniques, such as the deployment of big data to visualise tourist flows and concentrate resources where they are most needed, can help to address these and other issues.

Of course, this activity is all being done in an uncertain context. Local authorities across Scotland are under intense pressure to deliver top-class public services with ever-constrained budgets. Councillors in Edinburgh are facing increasingly tough choices in the weeks ahead – not least around how we collectively promote our capital city going forward.

The uncertainty around Brexit only adds to these anxieties. As a result, councils must be given the freedom to explore all appropriate means of resourcing tourism to ensure proper support is given to the sector. Without new, locally-appropriate financial levers, such as the powers to introduce a “tourist tax” (for which the council will shortly submit its final case to the Scottish Government), our task of ensuring tourism continues to grow in a responsible fashion will be made more difficult.

What is needed is a full and frank discussion to hear all views and consider concrete ways forward. Without this, our exciting plans for the future of tourism in Edinburgh – and Scotland – may fail to be fully realised.