Why Edinburgh's festivals rival the Olympic Games

Published: 17 August 2016

This article was published on the City A.M. website on 17 August 2016 as part of Invest Edinburgh Talk.

In 2015, combined attendance across Edinburgh’s festival programme topped 4.5 million people. Only the Olympic Games and the FIFA World Cup can rival those visitor numbers – and both are held every four years. Collectively, Edinburgh’s festivals are the undisputed heavyweight cultural champions of the world.

Every year, more than 25,000 artists from 70 countries, 1,000 media professionals and 1,000 producers and directors are drawn to Scotland’s capital. The city’s unmatched cultural appeal, its status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the world’s first UNESCO City of Literature, form the triumvirate behind the most popular UK city destination (Daily Telegraph’s Britain's 20 Best Cities)

Many people are familiar with the Edinburgh International Festival and Edinburgh Festival Fringe but the truth is that Edinburgh’s annual festival programme brings international talent to Scotland’s enticing capital nine months of the year.

Edinburgh's 12 annual festivals  
Edinburgh's Hogmanay December-January
Edinburgh International Science Festival March-April
Imaginate Festival May-June
Edinburgh International Film Festival June
Edinburgh Jazz and Blues Festival July
Edinburgh Art Festival July-August
Edinburgh International Festival August
Edinburgh Festival Fringe August
The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo August
Edinburgh International Book Festival August
Edinburgh Mela August
Scottish International Storytelling Festival October

Global outlook

Edinburgh’s reputation as a leading international destination relies to a large extent on the growing appeal of its Festivals offering. The two are intrinsically linked. World-class cultural events need a world-class city in which to flourish, requiring both an insatiable appetite to innovate and re-invent itself and a strong foundation of flexible infrastructure.

Festivals are a growing cultural and economic phenomena and the Edinburgh festivals are all global leaders in their sphere; deeply Scottish yet profoundly international at the same time.

All 12 reinvent themselves every year. Part of this annual evolution has involved the export of cultural content around the globe: for example, the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo enjoyed a smash hit tour of Australia and New Zealand last winter and hopes to tour in the Middle East and China in the next few years. The Tattoo – held annually on the esplanade of Edinburgh Castle – is already televised across more than 40 countries and is watched by 100 million people.

The Edinburgh International Festival and the Adelaide Festival also recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to “develop and promote creative, business and community collaborations”, including co-commissioning artists to create major work which is then premiered in each of the cities.

Innovation engine

Edinburgh’s festivals not only represent Scotland at its most confident and creative, they also deliver tangible economic impact for the city region and wider Scottish economy. The most recent figures, for the 2015 festivals, reveal the city’s cultural offer generated £280m for the city economy alone, directly supporting 5,661 full time equivalent jobs. 

Working with local and national agencies, the festivals also provide an amazing platform to help companies prototype new products, software and services – all designed to maintain the city’s reputation as the world’s pre-eminent festival city.

When Festivals Edinburgh collaborated with Nokia, way back in 1999, to deliver the world’s first public mobile app, few people could have envisaged how all-pervasive that technology was set to become.

Edinburgh-based Intelligent Point of Sale, the name behind the UK’s first cloud-based iPad electronic point of sale (EPOS) app, expect to handle 750,000 transactions during the 2016 Fringe alone, totaling £4m. Who knows where future innovations will take us?

What is clear is that Edinburgh’s festivals represent a cultural jewel in the crown, unmatched anywhere else in the world. They remain core to the city’s identity, and as such, central to what makes Scotland’s capital such an attractive and fantastic place to live, study and work.

Did you know...

The Edinburgh International Film Festival, established in 1947, is the world's longest continually-running film festival?



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