CAN THIS REALLY BE WORTH £241 MILLION?

ScotBuzz editor BILL JAMIESON says there’s no doubt Edinburgh’s Christmas and Hogmanay festivals add cheer and gaiety to Scotland’s capital. Visitors flock in who would otherwise not trouble to come. And the revenue generated is a handsome bonus for a city mired in tram works debt.

But is the economic impact anywhere near as large as that claimed in a report out from Culture Republic?

It has just announced that almost one million “unique visitors” (886,000 for the winter festival, 80,908 for the Hogmanay event) were drawn to the capital last year by these events.

And together, the two generated a staggering economic impact of £241.4 million for the city!

To put that figure in context, it amounts to almost three quarters (72.7 per cent) of the entire estimated gross value added of Edinburgh International Festival.

Bizarre? It stretches credulity.

The economic impact study claims to be based only on “unique visitors”. This excludes spend by Edinburgh residents, and only includes those people who said they were in Edinburgh solely or mainly because of either event.

But the total of almost one million is more than the entire Edinburgh catchment area. Some 62 per cent of attendees at Edinburgh’s Christmas and 78 per cent of attendees at Edinburgh’s Hogmanay are said to have come from outside Edinburgh and the Lothians. Really?

Good luck for Princes Street giants Primark or M&S if they claimed such out-of-town numbers in their turnover reports to heads office.

And how is the extraordinary figure of £241.4 million arrived at?

According to Culture Republic, which describes itself as “Scotland’s national gateway to public engagement and innovation in the cultural sector”, Edinburgh’s Christmas direct economic impact was £118.8 million (£199.5m when ‘advance impact’ multipliers are applied); the Hogmanay direct economic impact was £24.9m (£41.8m when ‘advance impact’ multipliers are applied).

And what are these “advance impact multipliers” exactly?

These are measures of impact on business sales generated by the event in Edinburgh gleaned from ratios in a Scottish Tourism Multiplier Study of 1991 (!) adjusted for inflation.

Full marks for statistical sophistry. But does it pass the common sense test?

Edinburgh City Council lost no time in crowing about these figures and put a press release last week uncritically repeating the numbers.

Said a expert source familiar with event financing and impact measurement, “I can only imagine that the fee for this work was too low to afford employing anyone who understands economics or how to extrapolate realistically from survey data”.

Research by Summerhall looks to be a better – and more detailed – model of how such events should be analysed and reported.

It gives a breakdown of  ticket sales and audience numbers for events at all major destinations and estimates that, overall, the Gross Value Added benefit to the capital at £330 million. Festival costs are put at £78 million and profit reckoned at £6.6 million.

Let’s be clear. No-one doubts the attractiveness of the capital’s Christmas and Hogmanay festivals, the benefits that they bring for  hoteliers, retailers and hundreds of small restaurant and catering  businesses, together with the cheer they add to the city centre.

But a more realistic method of accounting for economic benefit and value added is surely due.

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