The UK events industry currently delivers a healthy £42 billion to the British economy, but there is scope for further growth. According to the All-Party Parliamentary Group for the UK Events Industry, the sector will be worth an estimated £48.4 billion by 2020, with almost 80 per cent coming from conferences, exhibitions and trade shows.
But perceived barriers to growth exist. Broadly speaking these include the ability to remain competitive on a global scale, thinking beyond London, and having the infrastructure and flexible, skilled workforce in place to support regional venues, innovation and creativity.
Alongside other trade bodies, the Association of Event Organisers (AEO) is working with the Department for Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) and UK Trade and Investment on a business visits and events strategy.
The next important step is the formation of a DCMS events industry board to address how we can work together, supported by new Culture Secretary John Whittingdale, to overcome problems.
The World Economic Forum’s recently released Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Report shows that, although the UK retains overall fifth position, we are placed second to last out of 141 countries when it comes to price competitiveness, largely due to aviation and fuel taxation. Visa costs and process times also need addressing.
The events industry has much to offer the UK, both in terms of inward investment and overseas expansion
By hosting the Olympics and Commonwealth Games, the UK has proved it can put on large-scale events. But, if we are to remain competitive, a campus style venue, similar to an Olympic village, which can host world-class congresses with onsite accommodation, hospitality, exhibition space and conference suites, should be considered.
In representing the events industry in the UK, we are not solely concerned with London. With first-class transport networks, venue accessibility and availability, other major cities around could be in a position to take a larger slice of the pie.
Former European capitals of culture Glasgow and Liverpool are both good examples of where investment has helped regional cities attract global events. There are also business-sector clusters in cities such as Aberdeen, Cambridge and Reading which are well-known success stories for the oil, life sciences and technology industries.
It’s clear the events industry has much to offer the UK, both in terms of inward investment and overseas expansion. In fact, business generated abroad from AEO member exhibition organisers already represents £1.91 billion. It is our job to make sure the future of the UK exhibitions and events industry remains buoyant.