Should VisitScotland have done more to promote Edinburgh’s festivals in 2012
By Chris Cooke | Published on Friday 31 August 2012
As Edinburgh’s big festival month reaches its climax this weekend, with the Mela on Leith Links and the International Festival’s grand firework finale over the castle, tourist board VisitScotland has seemingly hit back at criticism that it should have done more to promote the capital’s summer festivals this year, given the competition of that big sporting event happening in England.
VisitScotland did stage events at so called Scotland House in London during the main Olympic games, and paid for dozens of journalists to visit the Festival City as London 2012 reached its conclusion. However, some reckon that the half a million spent in total by VisitScotland on marketing Edinburgh’s summer festivities this year simply wasn’t enough, given the increased competition for media and tourist attention, and the estimated £140 million the Festival generates for the Scottish economy each year. But, according to The Scotsman, VisitScotland has argued that a “last minute scattergun approach” to try and reach Olympic visitors in London in early August would have been inefficient.
Although overall ticket sales were only down about 1% at the Fringe, the biggest of Edinburgh’s August festivals, some key Fringe promoters and venues reckon their revenues are down 10%, having suffered a very slow start to the month while the Olympics were still being beamed into the homes of locals, an important part of the audience in the first week of the Festival.
Some are now saying that, with hindsight, the Fringe community should have shifted the festival’s dates, perhaps going back in sync with the International Festival, so to avoid the bulk of the London games. This idea was mooted when Fringe performers and promoters first discussed the impact the 2012 Olympics might have a few years ago, though was ultimately rejected. Others reckon that, given the shift of dates would have been impractical, organisations like VisitScotland should have done more to help with what was always going to be a challenging year.
Of course, who is really responsible for promoting the Edinburgh Festival is always of debate, given the ‘Edinburgh Festival’ doesn’t actually exist, rather it is an umbrella term applied to a number of festival events that take place in the Scottish capital each August. Marketeers at each of the programmed festivals focus their efforts purely on their own programmes. And while a huge marketing effort is undertaken by the performers and promoters involved in the Fringe each year, most of that is focused within the city itself, rather than reaching out across the UK and beyond.
The Fringe community’s Fringe Society arguably doesn’t have the budgets needed to stage a truly national, consumer-facing marketing campaign (and is hampered by internal politics that mean it can’t be seen to push the names of any specific performers in its publicity, even if that is what would sell the wider festival), and the grand plan instigated by the bigger Fringe venues to create a marketing platform in the guise of the controversial ‘Edinburgh Comedy Festival’ never really worked.
Which leaves Edinburgh City Council and VisitScotland, who arguably benefit hugely from having the world’s biggest cultural festival on their patch, despite it being an event that pretty much runs itself. Though both organisations have their own political issues – principally the fear of being seen to prioritise any one of the city’s festivals, so that city or tourist board-led marketing often has to feature festival events from the entire calendar, which just confuses consumers (who are already confused about the difference between the Edinburgh Festival, the Edinburgh International Festival and the Fringe, without bringing Hogmanay into the mix).
None of these issues, of course, are unique to 2012, though promotion of the Edinburgh Festival, and particularly the Fringe, is always going to be more widely discussed in more difficult years. Some are now already considering the impact the Commonwealth Games taking place in Glasgow in Summer 2014 might have, though as they are scheduled to finish just as the Fringe is starting, arguably that sporting event offers more opportunities than threats.