The Council currently has a consultant working on its “Tourism Strategy”. This is important politically as there is a growing feeling that this is an area where commercial interests have too much say, and the city is currently struggling to cope with the number of visitors. There is also a growing awareness that while much money is being made, too many people working in the sector are faced with poor pay and conditions in what are euphemistically called “entry level” jobs by the Council.
Indeed, the Council has named the strategy “Edinburgh 2020, The Edinburgh Tourism Strategy” and boasts it’s being developed by an “industry-led group facilitated by Scottish Enterprise” called ETAG (with no community representation). This group wants to grow the current tourist economy from 4.1 million visitors per year by one third to 5.5 million by 2030.
Stage 1 of this £60,000 industry led strategy development identified six “issues”: Accommodation supply; Value per visitor, and productivity; Visitor experience and pedestrian experience; Visitor-resident relationship; Tourism leadership, governance and delivery; and, Tourism demand.
Somewhat bizarrely, sustainability and climate change is not an “issue”, nor are the considered on any reports presented to Councillors on the development of the strategy. For the record, the reports went to the following committees: Culture and Communities Committee and Housing and Economy Committee. In addition, a draft Policy Statement on Tourism was recently considered by the Corporate Policy and Strategy Committee.
I find this really concerning as tourism in general is a sector closely connected to the environment and climate, and is considered to be a vulnerable and highly climate-sensitive economic sector. The impacts can be both direct and indirect, with some scenarios showing climate shocks elsewhere may drive people to the UK and other temperate climates.
We also know tourism is a key contributor to Greenhouse Gas emissions. A recent study suggested that up to 8% of all emissions may be due to tourism. To be clear, this is not just about flights but how hotels are managed and food is consumed.
If we are serious about the Climate Emergency we are facing, we can’t consider growing the tourism sector in Edinburgh without a clear, unequivocal and genuine commitment to review its carbon footprint. There is a real opportunity here for Edinburgh to show how to grow the tourist economy without also growing the environmental impact. Let’s do it.