Selling Auld Reekie

By The Drum, Administrator

September 8, 2005 | 8 min read

Edinburgh may have the Festival, the Tattoo and Hogmanay sewn up, but when it comes to competing with the rest of the UK for best city destinations, the capital was trounced by the West. Conde Nast Traveller’s influential annual awards rated Glasgow second only to London as the best UK city break destination. The award - which signals Glasgow’s rise from eighth place in 2004 - is a pat on the back for Glasgow City Marketing Bureau, who are understandably marking it down to the success of the Glasgow: Scotland With Style campaign. The award can only back up the plan by the Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce to launch a similar initiative to GCMB. The ECC’s chief executive, Ron Hewitt, mooted the idea in The Scotsman, saying he believed the abolition of the Edinburgh and Lothian Tourist Board had left operators in the city without representation.

“Since the article appeared,” he said, “we’ve had a lot of new members join the ECC from the leisure industry interested in what we’re planning. We didn’t criticise VisitScotland from a marketing point of view. The difference between the Edinburgh and Lothian Tourist Board and VisitScotland was ELTB had a point of view about the city. The problem is Edinburgh is the only capital that doesn’t have its own tourism body. It’s a double-edged sword – not just that it’s promoted, but that the quality on offer is high.”

Exactly what the ECC is going to create is in an embryonic state, but it will have a dedicated person heading it up, although it’s not thought a marketing campaign is part of the plan. “It’s not our intention to spend our members’ money like that, that is up to the Scottish Executive,” Hewitt said.

But does Edinburgh need its own marketing centre for tourism? With the city renowned for its International Festival, the Fringe, the Edinburgh Military Tattoo, not to mention the hundreds of other shows, festivals and concerts, its notoriety as the capital of Scotland outshines its western cousin.

Helen Hourston, managing director of Citigate SMARTS Edinburgh, believes Glasgow’s marketing push worked for it because it was a newer city, but that Edinburgh may not need the same treatment. “They’re very different cities,” she said. “Edinburgh is a bit slower and more thoughtful, whereas Glasgow’s a bit more sassy and a bit faster. Edinburgh belongs to the people in it, so we should all take responsibility for marketing it.”

The ‘Inspiring Capital’ brand will gain momentum over the next few years as people realise it has less of a business appeal but is more wide-reaching. “Everything in Edinburgh – from the business aspect to the Festival to the heritage – is all linked,” added Hourston.

Hewitt admits that the ECC members are from the private sector, and that they have a certain expectation of what VisitScotland should and can do. “I welcome VisitScotland’s efforts, but not at the expense of Edinburgh,” he said. “It’s not so much what Edinburgh deserves [out of the expenditure by VisitScotland] but what customers expect. People look to start their journey around Scotland from Edinburgh, and we have to put that focus back.”

VisitScotland, however, has the difficult task of trying to please all of the people, all of the time. Ward Mulvey, managing director of Bob Marketing, thinks that while Edinburgh does need to strengthen its tourism activity, celebrating the city’s differences is key.

“Everyone is aware of the political imperative to be seen to support the whole of Scottish tourism,” he said. “However, every region or city within it is unique and, as such, needs to let the outside world know this. I would argue that this is particularly vital in Edinburgh and Glasgow which, given ever-improving transport links, are frequently standalone tourist destinations in their own right. This approach is no different to any other product category where many different products that share a lot of common ground still differentiate themselves in their communications to the wider public. For me, this is a good thing as different people have different tastes, and it is precisely this difference which should be celebrated and encouraged. I think VisitScotland is in an extremely difficult position with all the various demands on its time and resources. Right now it represents each city as best it can, while taking the even-handed approach required by its political lords and masters.”

The move by the ECC has worried others though. Yvonne Balfour, managing director of Navigator Responsive Advertising, warns that following Glasgow’s ‘Scotland With Style’approach is folly. “If it’s setting something up like that, if it’s being done for the same reason, then it’s a non-starter,” she said. “We don’t really need an umbrella brand. I think Edinburgh is already known on the world stage, and we have to be careful not to undermine the other events that Edinburgh is already known for.”

She also warns that tourism efforts being led by the hotel trade and the ECC carry their own problems. “The hotel trade has a different agenda from other members of the Chamber of Commerce,” she said. “We’ve got to think long and hard about what we want to achieve. How much do you need to do as individual cities? VisitScotland is trying to do everything. How much do you need to raise the profile of a city to entice people – who would never have considered it before – to go there?”

One point of difference could be that Glasgow, as a younger city, has a greater need for marketing than the capital. “With Glasgow, a lot of its marketing is about changing perceptions,” said Balfour. “The ‘Glasgow Smiles Better’ has been maintained over a long time. Edinburgh and Lothian Tourist Board always picked off the different sectors rather than look at it as a whole. To say Edinburgh needs to do a ‘Glasgow’ would be dangerous.”

Positioning Edinburgh with a uniform marketing campaign could be tough with so many different aspects to it, but that could work in its favour according to David Reid, managing director of 1576, which handles the VisitScotland account. “Although each of the events [in Edinburgh] are world class, the trick is to position the whole rather than the sum of the parts,” he said. “It is possible to promote the city as a single entity, so that people are encouraged to experience many of its facets. Given that tourism is Scotland’s biggest industry and Edinburgh is our most visited city, it would be daft not to focus on tourism. With the city having the world’s biggest Arts Festival every year, I bet 100 per cent of cities across the globe wish they were Edinburgh for three weeks in August.”

Mulvey agrees. “I think we’re in danger of confusing the geographical location with the event itself,” he said. “The two entities are different and, as such, need to own their own approaches to marketing themselves. When you drill down to this level, Edinburgh needs to take a macro approach and show itself for the culturally and commercially diverse place it is. The events on the other hand need a more micro approach as often they are appealing to a more well-defined audience.”

Jon Stevenson, business director of Tayburn, would like to see more research done before any campaign is planned. “I think it’s sensible that VisitScotland co-ordinates activity for Scotland, but cities like Edinburgh, with a genuine international appeal across a range of interests, do require special support,” he said. “Tourism is hugely important to Edinburgh, but so are the financial, legal and general commercial sectors, so the Edinburgh city story has to be balanced. Any city will have different attractions for different people, and hopefully the whole will be greater than the sum of the parts. Edinburgh has a common theme of having a lot happening whenever you go – all set against the backdrop of one of the most beautiful cities in the world, although I would like to see the research on visitor/non visitor impressions of the city to see what they understand about Edinburgh.”

Mulvey, however, is against having a slogan. “I think slogans often bring a real danger with them, in this instance the necessity for a few pithy words which unnecessarily limit a city with unlimited potential,” he said. “Therefore it would need to be something that makes this very point, for instance,‘Edinburgh, a city limited only by your imagination’.”


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