Fringe boss warns of ticket slump


By Lauren Gelling

The economic slump could hit Edinburgh festival ticket sales this year, a venue boss has warned.

William Burdett- Coutts, director of Assembly, one of the biggest Fringe venues, said indications from shows touring the UK suggest that ticket sales could be slow when the world’s biggest arts festival begins in the capital next month.

He said promoters will have to “ride out” this year, and called for more public money to be used to promote Edinburgh’s festivals to the world.

His comments come at the same time as Assembly moves to a new home. After spending 30 years at the Assembly Rooms on George Street, the company has relocated to George Square Gardens.

Although advance sales for Assembly are on par with last year, Mr Burdett-Coutts said: “We have to be very careful about expectations. The feedback we pick up from people touring the country is sales are not easy at the moment.

“People are hurting at the moment so I would expect the overall (sales] figure to be down.

“I do not know what you can do. You have good years and bad years, and you just have to ride out the bad years.”

Last year, the Fringe sold 1.83 million tickets, making it a record year for the event.

Although the city council provides more than 3 million a year in grants to festival bodies, the only direct funding towards the Festival Fringe Society is an annual grant of nearly 100,000.

Mr Burdett-Coutts insisted more needs to be spent on direct promotion and marketing of the festivals.

He said: “In the middle of Edinburgh, we think it’s great and it is the world’s biggest arts festival.

“But I think there needs to be more done to promote that to a worldwide audience.”

Despite Mr Burdett-Coutts’ concerns, other major venues said they are experiencing strong ticket sales in the run-up to August.

Ed Bartlam of Underbelly said: “We think we have the best programme in years and this is being mirrored by the ticket sales we’ve seen so far.”

At the same time, a spokeswoman for the Gilded Balloon said sales “are up on last year, and are increasing day by day”.

Mike Cantlay, chairman of VisitScotland, said: “I was sure last year that the festivals sector would do well despite the recession and it did. I expect to see that again this year.”