Events industry helps power UK economy

People who attend events, along with the organisers of UK meetings, conferences, festivals, concerts, exhibitions, sporting spectacles, plus incentive travel and reward programmes, now spend £39.1 billion annually, according to the Business Visits & Events Partnership (BVEP).

This direct expenditure has increased by just over £3 billion compared with 2011 and gets pumped back into some 25,000 British-based businesses who provide venue hire, event production, exhibition stand design, technology solutions, food and drink, transport, and a raft of other goods and services, all related to the staging of live events.

In fact, the events industry is now the UK’s 16th largest employer with more than 530,000 people directly employed, which is more than double that of the UK telecoms industry.

Jackie Boughton, head of sales for Barbican Business Events in London, says: “It’s all too easy to see the economic impact of events just in terms of direct expenditure with perhaps a bit of travel thrown in. However, the events industry also delivers taxes, employs a significant workforce and has a massive influence on indirect attendee spend, such as eating out in restaurants, taking taxis and public transport, leisure time and overnight stays.”

According to a 2013 UK Economic Impact Study, carried out by Meeting Professionals International, conferences, meetings, incentives and exhibitions contribute a total of £21.1 billion to government tax revenues, accounting for 3.6 per cent of overall UK tax.

It’s little wonder, therefore, that in the final six months of the Coalition, the Department of Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) took steps to work more closely with this industry and to identify a diverse range of global and domestic events, which could then be bid for and staged in the UK with government support.

Anita Lowe, who owns Swindon-based agency Venues and Events, says: “Following informal industry consultation with government last year, the DCMS recently proposed forming a joint board with the events industry to support three tiers of event targeting – global, domestic and business visits. It’s vital for the country’s continued economic growth that under this new government, and with John Whittingdale as the newly appointed Culture, Media & Sport Secretary, the DCMS proposal is realised.”

The events industry’s future growth doesn’t appear wholly dependent on increased ministerial support, however. Since 2011, the sector has gained much wider parliamentary respect and has been far better represented in the corridors of power, largely due to the work of former Conservative MP Nick de Bois, who chaired an All-Party Parliamentary Group to increase awareness among MPs of the importance of a robust events industry to UK plc.

According to BVEP, even if the industry fails to find someone who can replace Mr de Bois in spearheading the industry in Parliament or should the formation of a joint board with the DCMS take longer than anticipated, direct event spending would still grow to around £48 billion over the next five years.

Simon Hughes, BVEP vice chairman, says: “We welcome the DCMS’s interest in winning future events for Britain and attracting more business visits. But at the same time, the existing need for events in business shows no sign of slowing down.

“Within companies, business strategies have become more impersonal, focused largely around digital solutions so the requirement for face-to-face engagement between stakeholders, shareholders and customers has never been more relevant. It is reflected in our industry’s growth since 2010 and it’s why spend is expected to increase by a further nine billion pounds by 2020.”

Meanwhile, the UK and London in particular is continuing to bathe in the last remaining Olympic after-glow of staging the 2012 Games. British events companies, which supplied London 2012, have reported securing business worth more than £130 million, through contracts won for the Brazil 2014 FIFA World Cup, and the Rio de Janeiro 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games on the back of their Olympic experience.

Figures also suggest that London can continue to expect an additional 20 per cent of expenditure for a further two years, generated by businesses and incentive groups specifically deciding to come to the UK capital in order to visit the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, and to hold meetings and events in the 2012 Olympic host city.

The European Society for Clinical Cell Analysis and the International Conference on Ocean Energy, will generate an estimated £91.5 million for the local economy

Venues and Events’ Ms Lowe says: “Scotland will no doubt experience a similar economic-legacy impact in the five-year period following Glasgow’s staging of the Commonwealth Games last year. Over £1 billion of new events infrastructure investment has already been stimulated by the UK’s two recent major sporting spectacles in 2012 and 2014, while our ability as a country to attract large-scale concerts, conferences and events has benefitted as a direct result.”

Edinburgh cites 2014 as a huge success for convention business with a record total of 208 new events won, including the European Society for Clinical Cell Analysis and the International Conference on Ocean Energy, both set to take place in 2016. These two major conferences will attract more than 65,000 delegates to the Scottish capital and generate an estimated £91.5 million for the local economy.

UK event locations

Examples of recent infrastructure investment in Scotland include a £17-million refurbishment of Glasgow’s International Airport, the SSE Hydro entertainment venue, designed by world-renowned architects Foster + Partners, and the £113-million Emirates Arena, which incorporates Scotland’s first indoor velodrome, named after Britain’s most successful Olympian Sir Chris Hoy.

“Associations remain one of the most important elements of the economic impact of conferences, meetings and events held here in the UK. The sheer size and regularity of association events means they can be relied upon continually to deliver spend not just in terms of direct venue, food and beverage expenditure, but also in a wider context that benefits the host destination significantly,” says Caroline Windsor of the Association of British Professional Conference Organisers.

“The BVEP’s recent spend figures show the impact of business events is growing faster than national tourism. Clearly, business events, particularly associations and their impact on the market, are on the rise. It is up to us as an industry not just to continue to organise great events, but also to ensure those in power, and our counterparts in other sectors, understand just how important we are, and why the meetings and events industry must have a seat and a voice at the policymaking table.”