Success at Aberdeen Christmas village will not be measured in numbers again this year, with city chiefs just relieved they were able to open the gates at all.
Festive fun, fair rides and market stalls took over Broad Street and Upperkirkgate in the middle of November.
Coronavirus forced the cancellation of the popular attraction in 2020 – and venues are again battening down the hatches in light of the rapid spread of the Omicron variant.
While safety around the festive market has been reviewed in light of the renewed calls for caution from the government, Aberdeen City Council and operator Codona’s have opted to remain open and trade in the wee hours after the bells on Hogmanay.
Adrian Watson, the chief executive of Aberdeen Inspired, the business organisation running the event in partnership with the council and Codona’s Amusement Park, said managing to open was the “initial hurdle” to overcome.
The grand opening, accompanied by a pipe band and the Union Street Christmas light switch-on, came the same night as NHS experts revealed their desire to see tougher restrictions to crush a resurgence in Covid cases – which has now become a reality.
Mr Watson, a former north-east police chief, said there would be no headcount taken or fierce competition about extra money being put into the local economy – a view shared by Aberdeen City Council.
“While there is a value in understanding the total number of visitors and therefore economic impact, there have been, quite frankly, more important considerations this year such as rebuilding confidence in the city centre, lifting the mood of the city and supporting incredibly hard-pressed businesses in the wake of Covid,” he told Aberdeen Journals.
“Informal soundings reveal that the market has been well received with healthy numbers that haven’t compromised the health and safety of visitors or staff.”
Counting crowds not the goal for ‘hard-pressed’ city centre businesses
On opening night he told us: “I’m quite relaxed that, with the city council’s lead, we don’t talk about figures this year, it’s about getting as many people into the north-east at a time when it has never been more needed.
“You can interpret visits, people can go back umpteen times, which is when it gets complex as they might not spend money in the village.
“We went to a great deal of trouble as well spending money (£10,000) on additional footfall counters one year and again there was a degree of scepticism.”
Previous footfall figures – produced in 2018 by counters deployed at gates at either end of the market – were thought to be miscounted by many, as it was claimed 631,000 people had visited.
It accounted for a year-on-year rise only a few thousand short of the entire population of the Granite City.
The doubt resulted in the plug being pulled on such tracking in 2019.
During its first two years, the Christmas village was held in Union Terrace.
Aberdeen Christmas village in pounds and pence
Between 2015 and 2018, inclusive, the market has spurred an additional £31.28 million to be spent in the city centre, with 2016’s £10.3m a record spending year.
Around £5.35m of that was forked out by visitors to the north-east, according to research published by Aberdeen And Grampian Chamber Of Commerce.
As the years have gone on, that same research – based upon interviews of those attending – shows the positive impact the market is having on the perception of Aberdeen is diminishing.
It peaked during the inaugural 2015 event – with 83% of visitors revealing it made them think better of the Granite City – and slid to only 36% in 2018.
Aberdeen Inspired’s evaluation of the 2019 market was not shared publicly – as analysis had been in previous years – with councillors discussing it in private last August.