12 May 2020

The cancellation of Edinburgh's August festivals will have a devastating impact on the wider Scottish economy, so an effective recovery plan is vital, writes Ewelina Lacka.
Festival Visitors on the Royal Mile

While the health and safety of visitors is of paramount importance, we must ensure a responsible and sustainable revival of tourism businesses and the employment they bring. Any effort to revive Edinburgh will benefit the wider region and Scotland as a whole, as our city is the gateway for the country's tourism economy.

A project I am leading with Business School colleagues Jake Ansell and Johannes de Smedt is working with the Edinburgh Tourism Action Group to assist local businesses in their efforts to recover from the impact of COVID-19. We will analyse data to support targeted marketing once lockdown measures are gradually lifted.

The Edinburgh Tourism Action Group comprises operators in the tourism and hospitality sector, as well as representatives from agencies and industry groups. The group covers tourism attractions, venues, events, and festivals, as well as transportation and accommodation providers.

Tourism embodies a significant part of the Scottish economy. Over the last few years Edinburgh in particular has seen an increase in visitor numbers, with associated visitors' expenditure contributing £1.5 billion to the city economy and supporting more than 33,000 jobs each year.

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, however, forced Edinburgh tourism businesses to close to adhere to social distancing measures. Venue closure as well as event and festival cancellations are having a huge impact. Many hospitality businesses have made staff redundant.

When restrictions are eased, it is expected that domestic travel will be allowed prior to international tourism. Thus, initial efforts aimed at tourism recovery should be focusing on domestic visitors (including local, inter-Scotland as well as UK-wide), followed by international arrivals. Those markets, however, differ significantly in terms of visitor demographics, intentions to visit, as well as disposable income. Those differences will be more pronounced post-COVID-19, where possible recession is likely to impact spending on tourism and leisure.

To ensure effective tourism recovery, data-driven insights into domestic as well as international markets are needed. Our project's aim is to provide such insights from consolidating data from various tourist industry partners, as well as behavioural data which can be used to support targeted marketing. Potential data sources include website visits and visits to social media sites, as well as visitor demographic information.

Businesses will be able to make data-led decisions on which international markets to focus on during the second stage of the recovery to ensure stable growth of tourism.

Knowing which visitor groups to target with marketing communications based on their demographics, visit intentions and disposable income will allow tourism revival. It will also ensure that Edinburgh retains its competitive advantage in the tourism sector.

This project, supported by the university's Data-driven Innovation initiative, is a chance to recover tourism responsibly, with local consent, and in line with Edinburgh's ambition to lessen its environmental impact.


Ewelina Lacka is a lecturer in Digital Marketing and Analytics at the University of Edinburgh Business School