Hospitable cities: Spotlight on Edinburgh

By Luke Nicholls

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Edinburgh, Hotel

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

Craig Sandle, executive chef, Pompadour by Galvin

“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.

Murray and Hazel Ward oversee the Rutland Hotel and its F&B offerings

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 restaurant​from 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.

Mark Greenaway recently moved his eponymous restaurant closer to the city centre

“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… 

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