Don't scrimp on destination PR over Christmas period

For believers out there, Santa's arrival is imminent. Recession will not dampen his spirits. In towns, cities and villages we hear sleigh bells tinkling and choirs sweetly singing against a shimmering backdrop of twinkling lights. The festivities seem bigger and brighter than ever, carrying exciting promises of fun for all.

Tina Sutherland: No Christmas cuts
Tina Sutherland: No Christmas cuts

We don’t have to look far to find ‘Bah, Humbug’ tales of council Scrooges saving money by buying smaller trees and switching off the fairy lights. It’s a ritual for gleeful journalists and a nightmare for the Press Officer at the sharp end.

But at this time of budget pressure and clear public expectations of protection for front line services, is it actually time to cut out the seasonal spend? Personally, I don’t think so. This investment can bolster our economic resilience. I do suspect we may have our work cut out to convince the local taxpayer.

For many, Christmas shopping is a chore of fighting through traffic, chaos and queues. We could avoid it online but for some reason choose not to. Millions of us head straight to the sparkle in the high street, credit card in hand.

As we get sucked ever deeper into the magic around us, the trip becomes an experience in itself. It's certainly not just about shopping. It's about shopping in a magical setting with great bars and restaurants, fantastic attractions and even some free parking helps! Simply put, the purchases are incidental.

Please don’t misunderstand. My argument is not to simply throw money into frivolity. We must still ensure big bangs for the limited bucks. The public and private sectors need to and can, work in partnership to exploit the synergies and deliver fresh planning ideas, alongside co-ordinated promotional messages. Done well, this will have real impact in a cluttered market.

Christmas should be a true highlight in the calendar. Showcasing and differentiating towns as destinations brings real economic benefit for retail and tourism. Increasing footfall supports local employment, livelihoods and communities which in turns supports public services. It would be a false economy to cut our cloth here.

Tina Sutherland is communications officer at Edinburgh Council and a member of the CIPR Local Public Services Group.

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