Edinburgh festival letting lessons learned

This year’s festival busier was than ever - which is good news for the economy of the city - but how will Edinburgh continue to meet the ever-increasing demand from visitors looking for flexible accommodation options?
Gareth K ThomasGareth K Thomas
Gareth K Thomas

For Edinburgh locals, September can be a mixed month. The city once again belongs to them, as the crowds of tourists and performers disperse and it becomes possible to get to work without having flyers thrust in your general direction. But it also marks the end of summer and a time when most locals realise that another year has passed without seeing as many festival shows as they had perhaps hoped.

The benefits to the Scotland’s capital city are undeniable and this year was better than ever. In 2012, the Edinburgh Fringe played host to more than 2000 shows across 200 venues. This year, there were around 3000 shows, spread across an impressive 300+ venues.

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If there was any ever doubt, the Fringe has certainly secured its title as the biggest arts festival in the world. This year the Fringe saw almost 2.3 million tickets being issued for 50,000 events, representing an increase of more than 5 per cent on last year. The Edinburgh International Festival took £3.8 million in ticket sales, which is a massive 19 per cent increase in comparison to last year. It’s clear to see what’s happening. Those who have been before can’t wait to return again and they’re also bringing friends and family with them, recommending it to everyone they know and sharing their experiences through social media, which gives Edinburgh the positive publicity it so deserves.

So how do we accommodate this surge in population? Price is the simple answer. When there’s an increased demand, but no increase in supply, raising the price works towards keeping that supply under control. But there’s an obvious downside to this. Shouldn’t Edinburgh be fully accessible to those who want to experience it during the festival period, rather than to those who can afford to? Pricing visitors out cannot be the right answer.

We need to look at the city’s opportunities and search for less obvious solutions. A lot of student accommodation previously sat vacant during August, but it provides a huge stock of places to stay for affordable rates in central locations. We can also set up temporary villages and turn to other similar creative solutions. A wonderful current example of a busy city catering for a rapid increase in visitors is Cardiff. There will be an inflatable pop-up hotel in Cardiff for the Rugby World Cup. Those frantically searching for accommodation can sleep in “Snoozebox” - a pop-up hotel offering inflatable sleeping pods and en-suite facilities.

As with holiday apartments and self-catering accommodation, it’s essential that these offerings are well managed. “Budget” shouldn’t mean bad and we need to be monitoring those providing a poor experience to the guests we welcome to the city.

For accommodation providers there are other big opportunities. Believe it or not, many visitors to Edinburgh aren’t actually aware of the huge festival that takes place each summer. There are often those who book their flights during August, then look online to book accommodation which is of course priced significantly higher than they had imagined.

And promoting the festival to those that travel at other times of the year would encourage return visits. We should be asking them…if you loved your time in the city, come and see it during August when it really comes alive.

The same is true for those visiting during August. Let’s encourage them to come back when the crowds have reduced and when you can walk home along the Royal Mile in less than 40 minutes.

Gareth K Thomas is director at Reserve Apartments, the largest provider of holiday apartments in Scotland.