One symptom of austere economic times is businesses reining in budgets and one of the first things on the chopping block is often marketing. This can include no longer sending delegates to a conference or to exhibit at a trade fair, or it can mean cutting back on incentive trips and corporate meetings abroad.
So should you take a short-term cost saving by keeping your event here in the UK or is now the time to spend big on a “wow factor” and potentially see more of a payback in years to come?
According to Michael Hirst, chairman of the Business Visits and Events Partnership promotional body and pressure group, UK event organisers and delegates should be looking inward.
Mr Hirst argues that all the benefits of having an event abroad can also be found within UK borders. “The UK is a large and diverse place, and the idea of taking clients or employees ‘away’ can be demonstrated by taking them from city to country and vice versa,” he says.
Following the success of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, there is no question about London’s infrastructure being up to handling large events and the rest of the UK is criss-crossed with an extensive rail network, with straightforward options for inexpensive flights or coach connections.
The UK leaves nothing to be desired when it comes to events, so why ever leave?
Event venues in the UK are diverse and plentiful: from the big boys of London Excel and Birmingham’s National Exhibition Centre to the mid-range boutique venues in charming towns like Harrogate, to countless hotels and unique venues for smaller events.
Mr Hirst adds: “The UK has a world-leading events industry, run by some of the most innovative and professional organisers. Our nation’s history, cultural heritage, and financial influence have created some of the most dynamic and iconic meetings and events venues in the world, in some of the most visually stunning destinations.”
The UK also boasts a variety of climates and environments to suit any need – you could get away to the country idyll of Cornwall or the rugged mountains of Scotland, or you could immerse yourself in the bustling urban vibrancy of London.
Staying in the UK will help keep costs down in most like-for-like scenarios, and knowing the business culture and language – for the most part – will help keep things easy as well.
Generally the UK leaves nothing to be desired when it comes to events, so why ever leave?
Cost saving isn’t everything. If you are looking for something to really drive home the goal, offer an international trip as an incentive to your salespeople. If you want to show a prospective client that you mean business and take them seriously, consider a meeting in another country.
Some of the benefits that make the UK a good safe place to stay are also solid arguments for going abroad – a new culture, new language, new contacts and unexplored territory. In terms of incentive, a trip abroad could be a once-in-a-lifetime experience that nobody will want to miss.
There are some places where you will save money as well. In Switzerland, for example, value added tax (VAT) is only 8 per cent, a significant saving compared to 20 per cent in the UK.
In its bid to draw more international events business, the Swiss Convention and Incentive Bureau will help organisers plan their events, even including sight inspections and speaker lists.
Even language-barrier problems can be avoided as so many people around the world speak English.
And, in terms of international business, an organiser would be hard-pressed to find a more relevant country than Germany. Three of the five largest exhibition centres in the world are in German cities – Hannover, Frankfurt and Cologne.
Event return on investment (ROI) is notoriously hard to measure. Obviously someone, such as an exhibitor travelling to a trade show, can have black-and-white sales targets to hit. But how do you judge ROI from a meeting or employee incentive and how can you tie that to your choice of destination?
Jane Baker, business development director at meetings and events agency CWT Meetings and Events, says: “Hard measures can be pretty clear: you want to see a growth in sales, for example. For softer measures, guests may feel like they have been rewarded or that they are working in the company they want to work at.”
Think about the function of the event before you decide on which location best suits that brief. For example, do you want delegates sitting in a room all day listening to you? Maybe a beach resort in Mexico wouldn’t be the most conducive environment for that.
Look at your target demographic. Who are your employees? How old are they? Do they have families? While a team of young salespeople might work harder to win that week in Las Vegas, a team of middle-aged golfers might prefer a trip to Scotland or a day out with the family after long days at work.
The UK faces stiff competition from events-focused countries with supportive governments working hard to win international business.
But with recent major events hailed as such successes, surely there is no better time to learn a bit more about what this country has to offer, as long as it aligns with the goals of the event and the amount you are willing to spend to get there.
CASE STUDY 01
For someone with all of Europe on their doorstep, Mexico might not be the first place to look for a possible destination.
However, holders of British passports do not require a visa to get there and the country boasts zero per cent VAT.
Sharing a border with the United States can help with accessibility, with direct flights from New York, Los Angeles and other major US cities. However, this means visitors may have to endure US customs checks which are reputed to be exhausting and time-consuming.
Language could be a stumbling-block, with Mexico not quite up to the level of Germany and other parts of Europe in terms of English. But proximity to the United States means many professionals speak English well enough to do business.
Safety could be another concern when visiting Mexico, although resorts and beaches are fairly well-guarded and secure.
Mexico is receiving significant private infrastructure investment, with new hotels planned for construction by Intercontinental Hotels Group, Hilton Hotels and Marriott International in Mexico City and throughout the country.
CASE STUDY 02
Considering it may fall under the radar for someone looking to bring an event to Asia from the UK, Malaysia is an attractive destination that boasts low costs and a growing infrastructure, including common free wifi hotspots.
No visa is required for visitors from most Commonwealth countries, including the UK, but perhaps the most attractive element of taking your event to Malaysia is the cost.
Five-star hotels in Kuala Lumpur begin at £100 a night and fine dining costs as little as £30 a head. Many hotels also offer day delegate rates beginning at £15 per person and group accommodation at about £80 a room with breakfast.
Malaysia was rated “highly proficient” in English speaking and first among non-native speaking Asian countries in the English Proficiency Index 2011. Not only do business staff speak English confidently, but the average citizen is also comfortable enough to converse.
The Malaysia Convention and Exhibition Bureau (MyCEB) was founded in 2009 as part of a government plan to increase business tourist visitor numbers from 1.2 million to 2.9 million by 2020.
CASE STUDY 03
Travelling to Australia obviously takes more time commitment and incurs higher travel costs which can be difficult if not impossible to get around.
However, where the country shines is its variety of rugged natural wonders, including the Great Barrier Reef and Uluru (Ayers Rock), among others. This makes it perhaps especially appropriate for an incentive trip, energising participants and readying them for their next business objective.
The Australian government is keen to increase event GDP to AU$16 billion (£10.3 billion) by 2020. Efforts, supported by Business Events Australia, include an international marketing campaign, tradeshow participation and a series of international road shows
The country possesses infrastructure to hold major events, with the G20 summit and International AIDS Congress due to be held in Brisbane and Melbourne respectively in 2014.
Infrastructure improvements include new function rooms overlooking the River Torrens at the Adelaide Convention Centre, and new hotels opening in Sydney and Perth.
Also appealing to the incentive traveller is the Skycity luxury resort in Darwin, which recently re-opened after a AU$40 million (£25.9 million) refurbishment, and Big Stick Adventures, which offers activities at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.