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Let’s work together on this


The Saturday morning sun woke me early this summer and, on a whim, I decided to cycle from my home in North Edinburgh to South Queensferry. As I descended the steep hill at the entry to the town I noticed a number of buses parked on the left. Turning past the Hawes Inn I was faced by many more lined up in the car park. Each bus had a sign indicating which sights of Edinburgh they would be visiting. Looking out into the Forth the reason for the buses became clear - a huge cruise ship anchored offshore and passengers being ferried in to the pier.

I cycled on through the High Street looking for a coffee shop. It was just before 9am and I entered the only one that was open. To my surprise it was packed and I was lucky to get the last table. The waiter told me that they were always busy when a cruise liner arrived. That’s good business for the cafe but it can only take around 30 or 40 customers. A very small proportion of the 3,500 tourists on the ship.

Leith and Newhaven welcome even more cruise ships than South Queensferry and I often hear concerns from residents and politicians in both places that local businesses do not benefit much from cruise ship tourists who leap on to buses and leave for central Edinburgh which benefits most from tourist spending.

I fully understand these concerns. Tourism in Edinburgh is a huge success with visitor numbers bouncing back after Covid and plans for many new hotels suggesting that growth will continue.

However tourism is something of a double edged sword and I believe that the crowds in the city centre especially the Royal Mile at peak holiday season may reduce the quality of the visitor experience. Of course tourism numbers here are not yet at the level of other major European cities such as Venice, Barcelona and Amsterdam but we do need to address the issue.

As someone born in North Edinburgh and representing Forth Ward which borders the river and includes Newhaven, the challenge of how to spread the benefits of tourism more widely across our city is one that has always been important to me.

Both South Queensferry and Leith have huge tourism potential. South Queensferry has the story of Queen Margaret. It was an important stop on the pilgrim route to St Andrews, has an attractive high street and in the amazing Forth Railway Bridge one of only 4 UNESCO World Heritage Sites in mainland Scotland.

Leith has a fascinating history very different from that of Edinburgh and many underappreciated fine buildings. The history of the port itself, the story of Margaret of Guise and Mary Queen of Scots, the visit of George IV in 1822, the fishing story of Newhaven, the long standing claret and port trades and the excellent restaurants are just some of the elements that could be brought together to make an interesting visit.

The potential market is huge. For 2023 it is likely that the total number of cruise ships arriving at South Queensferry and Newhaven/Leith will be 120 - up 50% from pre-Covid levels and as the ships are now larger, passenger numbers are increasing even faster. Bookings so far suggest there will be even more arrivals next year.

This year 200,000 passengers came ashore in Newhaven and Leith and around 100,000 in South Queensferry. That’s a huge potential market for local businesses and with the introductions of the tourism levy, something we could use to promote South Queensferry, Newhaven and Leith.

So here’s my challenge for the tour companies, tour guides, restaurants, other businesses, politicians and community organisations in both areas. Can you work together to produce day packages which will persuade cruise companies to put tours of these areas on the menu of options for passengers to choose for their day ashore?

It might involve the whole day in Leith or South Queensferry or perhaps half a day there and half in the city centre. I do not underestimate the difficulty in developing these plans but if there is interest, my colleagues at Edinburgh Council stand ready to help.

In addition I have spoken to Visit Scotland who are the real experts and they are keen to add their expertise.

Let’s work together on this. ■

AIDA Aura Viking Venus off Newhaven July 2022


The crowds in the city centre may reduce the quality of the visitor experience


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