2022 Edinburgh Fringe

Edinburgh venues: accommodation costs threaten festival's future

Sunday 28th August 2022, 1:17pm

  • Edinburgh Fringe venues have jointly warned that soaring accommodation costs are the biggest risk to the festival's future
  • The forecast number of tickets the eight EdFest.com venue groups have sold is down 25% compared to 2019
  • "The future of the Fringe is in very real danger" unless the government, landlords, universities, venues and Fringe Society come up with a solution
Pleasance Courtyard

The eight major producing venues behind EdFest.com - Assembly, Dance Base, Gilded Balloon, Just the Tonic, Pleasance, Summerhall, Underbelly and ZOO - have collectively released a statement that soaring accommodation costs are the biggest risk to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe's future.

1,965,961 tickets were collectively sold by the eight venues in 2019 but this year they are only forecasting sales of 1,486,746. This will likely drop further in 2023 if audiences can't afford to visit the city.

A spokesperson for EdFest.com said: "It has been fantastic to be back at the first full Fringe since 2019 - to see the live performance industry come roaring back to life in this post-pandemic world. There has been a real appetite and energy for shared, live experiences in Edinburgh over the last few weeks and the quality of the programme has been incredible - yet, the forecast number of tickets we've collectively sold is down 25% compared to 2019, which is a major threat for everyone involved in the festival.

"Together, we eight venues are forecast to have sold more than 1,486,746 tickets despite the very real continuing challenges to our industry, including the cost-of-living crisis, the lingering effects of coronavirus, the cost and uncertainty of international travel, the recent train strikes and more. Chief among these however is the soaring cost of accommodation in Edinburgh in August - audiences and artists alike are being priced out of town, out of experiences.

"It is clear to anyone spending time in Edinburgh, that there are fewer people in the city this year than in 2019. While there are certainly other factors that have affected audience numbers this year; the cost of accommodation is a perennial problem across the board. Disruption with public transport, delays with artist visas, and high fuel costs are even more insurmountable when people and performers simply cannot afford to stay in the city.

"We know that a lack of safe, affordable housing is not just an August problem, but one that affects the artists, staff and audiences who call Edinburgh home. It's imperative that local and national government, landlords, the universities, Fringe venues and the Fringe Society all come together to find a lasting solution for this issue, or the future of the Fringe is in very real danger. Long term we also have to find solutions that allow the festival to be affordable to performers and the audience. Given the extent of the reduction in sales the overall festival has a major job to do in restoring the event to normality, which may take several years and require some public support. We need to stabilise the current situation where many people have made significant losses; to address the accommodation issue; to find ways of supporting work; and a major marketing campaign to get the audience back to the festival.

"Over the past 75 years, the Edinburgh Festival Fringe has earned its reputation as the world's leading arts festival. We must continue to work together to do everything in our power to ensure that it remains a vibrant, inclusive, and financially accessible destination for another 75 years."

29th August update: The Fringe Society's statement

The 2022 Edinburgh Festival Fringe draws to a close today having brought together artists, international arts industry and media, and both loyal Fringe fans and new audiences. After some of the most challenging years on record for the sector, the hard work and effort of the artists, venues, producers, promoters, arts and media industry, and staff should be recognised and celebrated.

The lead up brought with it understandable anxiety, as Fringe-makers took on the risk and uncertainty of returning in a year like no other. Audience patterns have changed, industrial action caused significant disruption to rail travel and refuse collection, and affordable accommodation in Edinburgh was at crisis point. This year's festival has been a colossal and collective effort.

We recognise and thank the residents and businesses of Edinburgh and the Lothians, home to the Fringe for the last 75 years. Residents of our historic city accounted for 39% of all tickets issued (+4% on 2019), and their support and commitment to the festival is evident. Overseas audience attendances also increased, accounting for 10% of all tickets issued (+2% on 2019).

While the number of tickets issued is testament to the commitment of those who put on the shows and the audiences who came to see them, far beyond what we could have imagined at the start of the year. The growing cost of Edinburgh for artists points to the need for long-term recovery, investment, and support to ensure the sustainability and longevity of one of the world's most important cultural events. Some clear challenges have emerged, and we need a collective approach to address these, or the future of this long-running beacon for cultural connection and development will be in jeopardy.

This year's Fringe saw an estimated 2,201,175 tickets issued across 3,334 shows which were performed by artists from 63 countries. The festival welcomed diverse work from Scotland, the UK, Europe and the rest of the world, with 13 showcases including work from Canada, Finland, Belgium, Taiwan, South Korea, Ireland - North and South, Denmark and Australia.

The 2022 programme tackled themes and issues such as mental health, gender and gender identity, neurodiversity, disability, feminism, lockdown, experience of migration, LGBTQ+, politics, race and racial identity and work for children; with upcoming talent showcased alongside well-known performers and international work.

The Street Events programme was extended into new sites, with 3,284 performances by Street Performers across the programme. These included 650 Taster Stage slots on new sites in St Andrew Square and Cathedral Square in St James Quarter. 170 shows were represented, with five additional slots given to community groups and schools.

Over 35 professional development events for Fringe participants were delivered in partnership with 16 external organisations in Fringe Central, our dedicated centre for artists at the heart of the Fringe, and on Fringe Connect, our online home for artists. The Arts Industry office accredited 1,354 producers, programmers, bookers, talent agencies, festivals and others from 45 countries, looking to find work, tour it and support artists beyond the festival itself. They were joined by over 770 of the world's media, and 147 delegates who participated in Screen Fringe.

The communities, learning and access team worked on a number of key initiatives, including loaning out 150 sensory backpacks for autistic children and adults. BSL interpretation took place in West Parliament Square on five days of the festival, and a dedicated Changing Places toilet was located beside George Square.

The Society worked with over 30 Edinburgh charities and community groups to distribute over £60,000 of Fringe vouchers and Lothian bus tickets, enabling residents from across the city to experience the festival, many for the very first time. In addition, over 900 schoolchildren came to the Fringe as part of our schools' outreach work.

Shona McCarthy, CEO of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society, said: "Our enormous congratulations go out to everyone who came together to create the 2022 Edinburgh Festival Fringe. This year's festival is the first step in what will be a long road to recovery and renewal. The hard work of thousands of artists, and hundreds of venues, producers and staff has combined to deliver the 75th anniversary festival during one of the most challenging summers on record.

We recognise the significant amount of work that is still required to support the long-term sustainability of this phenomenal Festival. As we review and discuss all the learnings from this year, our focus this autumn will be on planning for the 2023 Edinburgh Fringe. Collectively we will work to advocate for greater support for those at the heart of the Fringe - our artists. The eyes of the world look to this historic city every August, and we need to work together to ensure the Fringe is the best place for creatives to express their ideas, audiences to support them and for people across the sector to develop their skills and careers for the next 75 years."

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