For 11 years, the Borders Book Festival has grown into the largest event in the region.
With an audience of fewer than 300 in its first year in 2004, the organisers mounted the best attended festival last year, with a staggering 17,600 visitors – a 23 per cent rise on 2013, a record in itself.
The dramatic increase was aided by increased funding from Scottish Borders Council and Homecoming Scotland. The festival programme was no larger and did not run for longer, but the extra funding paid for more and farther-reaching marketing, resulting in a sharp increase in visitors from outside Scotland. It also allowed the organisers to bring authors and performers from much further afield.
The social and cultural benefits of the book festival are substantial, but difficult to calculate with any precision.
But its economic impact can be measured. The festival lasts only four days, but its overall economic benefit has been calculated at £2.25m as people came from across the region, as well as Scotland, the wider UK and overseas. Visitors stayed in hotels, guest houses and self-catering accommodation in the central Borders. Restaurants, pubs and shops also saw steep rises in the volume of business, with the economic effects of the festival rippling far beyond Melrose.
“It’s all very depressing,” joked Alistair Moffat, the festival’s founder. “Each year Paula Ogilvie and I make a rod for our own backs as we attempt to improve the quality of an already sparkling programme. And because we do not wish to expand the festival beyond a long weekend at Harmony Garden, we can’t keep on increasing the numbers. But we can keep on creating wonderful, unique and memorable events that continue to put the Borders on Britain’s cultural map.”
Council leader David Parker said: “The book festival has gone from strength to strength and is now a very important event for the Borders. The growth in those attending, particularly visitors from out with our region, is a demonstration of the incredible economic impact the event has, from a small investment from a range of organisations.
“The 2015 event again promises to be something very special and with the arrival of the new Borders railway it is hoped in years to come that we can further build on the number of visitors who come to the festival from out with region.”