Hospitable cities: Spotlight on Edinburgh

Hospitable city: Edinburgh now boasts five Michelin-starred restaurants, along with a diverse hospitality offering

What better time to write about the Scottish capital than when the world’s biggest arts festival is in full swing? The Edinburgh Fringe brings in thousands of performers and tourists and its cosmopolitan and bohemian nature encapsulates the city’s year-round hospitality offering. 

But it’s not just this month’s event that brings in the footfall. In fact, the Fringe is one of 12 festivals that take place throughout the year which together contribute to Edinburgh being the most-visited UK city outside of Londonfor both domestic and international visitors.

So how is a city with a population smaller than Bradford able to punch above its weight so consistently when it comes to attracting visitors, hosting major events and offering such a variety of hospitality offerings? The answer lies in its people.

So says James Lackie of VisitScotland - latest research from the national tourism organisation shows that both the number of visitors to Edinburgh and the amount those visitors are spending are at all-time highs.

“The friendliness of the people is often one of the main things that tourists remember,” says Lackie. “The warm welcome they give, their passion for the city and the friendly banter that often takes place here – these are all things that are very popular with tourists and encourage return visits.”

Just over four million UK holidaymakers are expected to visit Edinburgh this year, boosting the local economy by £1.2bn.To have such a wide appeal, it must offer something for everyone, and this is certainly an ethos reflected in the thousands of hotels, restaurants and pubs spread across the city.

Video interviews

So, what else makes Edinburgh a ‘hospitable city’? BigHospitality took a trip up to the Scottish capital to ask some of the business owners in the area what they thought.

“The quality and variety has changed dramatically,” says Craig Sandle. The Edinburgh-born chef has worked in the city for nearly all his working life,now heading up the latest instalments of Chris and Jeff Galvin’s empire, the Pompadour by Galvin and Brassrie de Luxe at The Caledonian hotel in Princes Street.

“When I first began to this city there were no Michelin-starred restaurants (Martin Wishart was the first to gain one in 2001). Two years later, Number One Restaurant at The Balmoral gained a star and the area has continually evolved from there.

“For a while, Edinburgh became a bit top-heavy. It had four Michelin-starred restaurants and the level below that was essentially ripping off tourists by charging the money but not providing the right quality of food.

“Now, things have changed. It’s really diverse – you’ve got Roy Brett (Ondine), the Timber Yard, The Gardener’s Cottage and the refurbished Pompadour. There are some great options from casual dining right up to the top end.”

Compact city

Just across the road from Sandle’s restaurants is The Huxley,one of the city’s latest casual dining offerings. Housed within the Rutland Hotel, the venue serves simple food menu of gourmet hot-dogs and chuck steak burgers within a 'home-from-home' setting. It’s an ideal accompaniment to the higher-end Kyloe steakhouse, situated upstairs at the hotel.

Husband and wife Murray and Hazel Ward,who together help to run Rutland and its F&B offerings, believe the friendliness of front-of-house staff and the compact nature of the city both contribute to Edinburgh having such a strong dining scene.

“The character of the staff makes us stand out,” says Hazel. “We’re a city that invests a lot in our people.”

“And you can get around Edinburgh so quickly,” adds Murray. “There’s so much variety and diversity within such a small space. London has a similar variety, but there it can be quite spread out.”

London comparisons

With only 100,000 UK holiday visits separating Edinburgh and London,comparisons between the two cities can be easily drawn. Mark Greenaway, who recently moved his eponymous restaurantfrom Picardy Place to North Castle Street (closer to the city centre), believes that, in some respects, the Scottish capital actually trumps its English counterpart.

“We’re able to get hold of quality produce more easily,” says Greenaway. “My scallop supplier and my beef supplier both supply London but we obviously get it fresher and quicker than they do. They’re essentially using the same ingredients a day later than we are.

“Edinburgh really respects and understands and supports the independent restaurants as well. You do have your bigger chains here but the majority of restaurants that are doing well are the individual places. It really has something for everyone.”

This ‘something for everyone’ philosophy extends into Edinburgh’s hotel industry. From budget hotels such as the debut Cityroomz property,through to Hotel Missoni, the refurbished Balmoral, the Sheraton Grand and the Caledonian - major investments have taken place across the city in terms of its accommodation offering, from the bottom to the top.

Tram works

But the growing success of Edinburgh’s hospitality businesses hasn’t been without its challenges. The development of the tram system, which was meant to be finished in 2011, is still on-going, with costs spiralling from an initial £545m to £776m.

Many local businesses have seen trade affected due to a reduction in footfall in certain areas, but Lackie from VisitScotland believes the resilience of Edinburgh’s tourism and hospitality industry has shone through.

“Undoubtedly the tram works have caused challenges for businesses, but these are challenges that a number those businesses have had to work around,” says Lackie. “When things get tough, businesses work harder, they market harder to really grab those visitors. And that resilience really shows.

“I don’t think it’s affecting statistics, it’s not putting visitors off. It’s obviously caused difficulty when manoeuvring around the city, but recent visitor stats are showing nothing but positives.”

Spotlight on Scotland

And there is light at the end of tunnel: city leaders have pledged that all major works will be cleared by the end of the year, ahead of what Lackie calls ‘a huge year for Scotland’ - one which Edinburgh’s hospitality businesses will be hoping to capitalise on.

“Aside from all the usual festivals, we have the Commonwealth Games, the Ryder Cup and the second Homecoming Scotland.

“Businesses in Edinburgh have got a great opportunity to utilise these events, while the eyes of the world are on Scotland. It’s up to hospitality and tourism businesses to really grasp the opportunity.”

Welcoming people, a diverse range of businesses and a host of big-name industry faces are the key ingredients for any ‘Hospitable City’, and Edinburgh is testament to that fact. Perhaps the next two cities in this mini-series of special features will show similar traits… 

Related News

Boom town: A four-star hotel in Edinburgh currently costs an average of £207.51

Edinburgh Tourism Showcase helps hospitality businesses warm up for winter

Leeds' hospitality market has been buoyed by the arrival of shopping centre Trinity Leeds, but it still has a strong independent spirit, say those who live and work there

Hospitable Cities: Spotlight on Leeds

Scottish chef duo Tom Kitchin and Dominic Jack opened The Scran & Scallie together in April

Tom Kitchin & Dominic Jack on Michelin stars, the rise of Edinburgh and running a 'gastropub'

Heritage Portfolio opens permanent café at The Signet Library in Edinburgh

Heritage Portfolio opens permanent café at The Signet Library in Edinburgh

Mark Greenaway's second restaurant Bistro Moderne will open in Stockbridge in December

Mark Greenaway to open second restaurant in Edinburgh

The second Hub by Premier Inn will open in Scotland next year as part of the £150m Caltongate development in Edinburgh

Whitbread to open Hub and Premier Inn hotels at £150m Edinburgh development

London's calling: Restaurateurs Gordon Ramsay and Vivek Singh say they are in the 'global food capital'

The London Story: What makes the 'global capital' so hospitable?

Hospitable City: Hotels in the Scottish capital of Edinburgh recorded an average RevPAR rise of 9 per cent in 2013

Scotland steals the show with 2013 RevPAR growth

Aisle is the brainchild of husband-and-wife team Stuart Ralston and Krystal Goff

Scotland’s first 'neo-bistro' to open in Edinburgh

Hospitable cities: The ‘staycation’ trend is bigger than ever, with 41 million Brits choosing to holiday at home last year

Travellers’ Choice: Top 10 UK tourism hotspots

London took the top spot again in 2013

Top 10 most visited UK cities 2013

Ricky Kapoor of The Edinburgh Collection welcomes plans to build two luxury hotels in Edinburgh, including the 'ribbon' hotel (pictured here)

Edinburgh hotelier welcomes city’s luxury hotel plans

Mark Greenaway with his new cookbook Perceptions. Photo: Paul Johnston at Copper Mango

Chef Mark Greenaway cookbook to change perceptions of Scottish food

Scottish chef pair Dominic Jack and Tom Kitchin are to open an Edinburgh pub together later this year

Tom Kitchin to open Edinburgh pub restaurant with Castle Terrace's Dominic Jack

Mark Greenaway hopes the new restaurant will capture some of Edinburgh's lunch trade

Restaurant Mark Greenaway to move from No.12 Picardy Place further into Edinburgh city centre

The Huxley will offer a range of gourmet hot-dogs and chuck steak burgers in a 'home-from-home' environment

The Huxley bar & restaurant opens in Edinburgh’s Rutland Hotel

Britain is GREAT: The UK's top 20 holiday destinations vary from bustling cities to rural retreats

Staycation nation: UK's top 20 holiday hotspots experiencing £12bn domestic tourism boost

Several waiters took part in a race around Brunswick Square to celebrate the inaugural National Waiters Day

National Waiters Day 2013: Hospitality industry unites to celebrate front-of-house staff

Submit a comment

Your comment has been saved

Post a comment

Please note that any information that you supply is protected by our Privacy and Cookie Policy. Access to all documents and request for further information are available to all users at no costs, In order to provide you with this free service, William Reed Business Media SAS does share your information with companies that have content on this site. When you access a document or request further information from this site, your information maybe shared with the owners of that document or information.