‘Keeping the content relevant and fresh is vital, and organisers who get this right will continue to flourish’

The events industry is worth more than £39 billion to the UK economy and has ambitions to drive investment of £48.4 billion by 2020, as set out in the Business Visits and Events Partnership’s Overview of the UK Events Industry. Conferences and meetings deliver the lion’s share, with more than £19 billion direct spending on goods and services, followed by £11 billion from trade and consumer exhibitions.

The Association of Event Organisers (AEO) represents UK exhibition and conference organisers, and is part of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Events as well as the Events Industry Board, co-ordinated by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. It seeks to promote the importance of the industry and find ways of ensuring the UK remains competitive for inward investment, and exporting events and UK business overseas.

Furthermore, AEO has recently launched its Global Study which shows that its members were responsible for driving revenues of £1.2 billion in 2014-15 from overseas events, an increase of 23 per cent on the previous year.

Although the industry is forecast to continue to grow, organisers have identified a number of areas affecting their ability to attract inward investment to the UK, including ease of entry and increased costs compared with other markets. Potential solutions are the introduction of special event visas and cost-reduction measures, such as considering how to reduce the impact of air passenger duty and VAT on business events to attract visitors and exhibitors to established UK events, and to try and attract new peripatetic events into the country.

In addition to operational considerations for maintaining competitiveness, organisers are looking at how they can enhance the experience of exhibitors, visitors and delegates because this is what keeps them coming back year after year. Keeping the content relevant and fresh is vital, and organisers who can get this right are the ones who will continue to flourish. Fortunately, there are plenty of examples out there that nurture the communities they serve and make events fun, educational and tailored to a specific audience.

Trade events in the UK are learning from their consumer counterparts. Event organisers looking to target younger business-to-business audiences are developing festival-style trade shows that have taken the young, urban festival feel and translated it into a vibrant, dynamic business event with fantastic content and inspirational speakers.

Another way of engaging a specific audience is to offer visitor packages by co-operating with other organisers who are running an event at the same venue. This enables the visitor or delegate to make the most of their leisure or business time and save money by visiting a number of different events on the same day. It tends to work particularly well for exhibitions targeting similar audience profiles, for example a gaming trade show and an adventure holiday event. It’s worth thinking about when planning the next event or launching a new show.

AEO also helps members support their customers, via its FaceTime initiative www.facetime.org.uk. Launched in 2010, it provides resources that enable exhibitors to improve their performance, drive sales and enhance the customer experience as well as champion best practice.

There are many ways exhibitors can make events more memorable for attendees by creating on-stand experiences that are fun, interactive and engaging. Using the latest technology and gamification is a great way to appeal to competitive types, for example.

FaceTime research shows that 69 per cent of attendees recommend brands they’ve seen at a show and 74 per cent of visitors believe live events are the best form of marketing, which is twice as powerful as TV advertising. In addition, 32 per cent of consumer and 34 per cent of trade show attendees are considered to be high influencers and spend twice as much as other visitors.

The aim for both organisers and exhibitors is to create an experience that gives highly influential visitors something to talk about and attracts even more big spenders to future events.