JOHN McGURK DECEMBER 6 2016
Here they come again; another battalion of thrill-seekers making their way into the centre of Edinburgh, the most popular destination in the UK outside of London now attracting 4.4 million visitors every year.
Surely no-one will complain that the city profits from this invasion of tourists who drink, eat, shop and sleep more than £100 million worth of business to the city’s economy every year thanks to its summer and winter festivals.
But hang on a minute. The numbers are getting bigger, the regulation is getting lighter and the place is getting brighter as the city is transformed into a theme park over Christmas.
The centre of Edinburgh is beginning to look more like Disneyland than world heritage and, frankly, it’s about time someone spoke out about it.
The consequences are becoming very worrying for anyone who resides in the centre of Edinburgh. There are areas in the Old Town in particular which are becoming unliveable because of noise and pollution.
Take the High Street and the Grassmarket, where most of Edinburgh’s history was created. They’ve become playgrounds for visitors and profit centres for businesses who appear to be unaware of the mayhem they are causing.
Hotels seem to spring up wherever there is a gap or a derelict site. Vacant premises become either bars, restaurants or takeaways served and dispatched by a posse of Deliveroo cyclists.
Streets become littered with the debris of the night while other roads are jammed by sightseeing buses and tourist coaches which are too big to navigate the narrow thoroughfares.
Down on Princes Street, once one of the most impressive boulevards in Europe, the place is currently a fun-fair with Reindeer Land and Santa’s Grotto sitting alongside the five star Balmoral Hotel.
Along the way, the east gardens between Waverley Bridge and The National Galleries have been taken over by over-priced pop-up bars and smelly food stalls selling greasy hamburgers and the like.
The ubiquitous German Christmas markets, selling the kind of seasonal gifts which are soon regretted, offer hot chocolate and mulled wine at £4 a polystyrene cup by folk who don’t much look teutonic.
Then there’s the ferris-wheel which dominates the Scott Monument and a frightening swing ride which hurtles passengers— God help them— round and round some 70 feet high. Children can ride on more traditional merry-go-rounds as the music wafts across to Jenners on the other side on the street.
It’s a similar picture in St Andrew Square and, this year for the first time, the joy has spread towards the West End where the aptly named Festival Square off Lothian Road has been turned into a star-studded concert area.
Someone is doing very nicely out of all this thank you very much.
Pitched perfectly for the invasion is that online monster AirBnB where accommodation is usually cheaper than city centre hotels.
Shrewd business folk are quick to snap up flats for sale to turn them into highly profitable short term lettings usually for around £130 a night sleeping four.
It’s now more profitable for landlords to operate AirBnB than to rent out their properties to traditional long-term tenants which is leading to a dearth of rented accommodation in tourist cities across the world.
It’s time Edinburgh (population 500,000) studied what has been happening in Amsterdam (population 800,000) where tourism took over the city to such an extent that residents finally declared they’d had enough.
The problems are many and varied: tourist leave secure gates open; they can’t find the key to get into the property; they break locks; they can turn up in the middle of the night; they leave their rubbish for neighbours to clear away; they bang about with suitcases and slam doors.
Landlords in Amsterdam are now restricted to 60 days rent a year while AirBnB has agreed a system which allows residents, who are plagued by the antics of different neighbours every few days, to complain direct.
Amsterdam’s local authority has also agreed to limit new hotel building and crackdown on tourists who misbehave. But whether any of this will work remains to be seen.
In Edinburgh, the city council should act now and bring a balance back to city centre living before it’s too late.
Of course, tourism is a vital and necessary part of the Edinburgh economy —but it should not be at the expense of the people who live and work here.
Edinburgh should start by ensuring that AirBnB landlords pay council tax. It’s a disgrace that they do not but get the benefit from those who do.