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AEO's Chris Skeith: hope with hesitance

By Chris Skeith (pictured), CEO, Association of Event Organisers

As I listened to the chancellor of the exchequer, Rishi Sunak, outlining the £330bn emergency rescue package for the UK, I was filled with both hope and hesitation.

We still await confirmation that the measures reported in last week’s budget are applicable to the events industry. So, when again, no reference was made to our sector in this announcement, things did not appear to be as hopeful as I had wished.

Even before the end of the briefing I had written to all of my contacts within government to seek some reassurance that organisers, venues, suppliers, and freelancers are in scope. There was much debate last night in the House of Commons. This is hopeful, but we need to hear it directly; we need to have it spelled out. We need the government to hear us and clearly reference our wonderful, but compromised, industry.

We have long reported the scale of the exhibitions part of the events industry in the UK (almost 1,100 trade and consumer events taking place annually, contributing £11bn to the UK economy via the participation of 9.1m visitors and 178,000 exhibitors (20% being international). 

In addition, of the 84 AEO members, 23 alone organise more than 1,000 overseas events from UK headquarters, bringing some £2.1bn turnover into the UK economy, and putting them in the Top 10 Service Exporters.

To give you some sense of the impact the government announcements and recommendations will have on the UK economy: holding no exhibitions in April, May and June would cost the economy some £3bn. This is a conservative estimate and doesn’t include the onward impact to the supply chains of the markets that the events serve.

While the £330bn rescue plan announced yesterday is welcomed, I am sure it will help many, but the devil is in the detail and in an environment when circumstances change hour by hour, more will need to be done.

Businesses big and small need help now, they need to support their staff, their contractors, their freelancers.  Access to funds, relief payments, payment deferrals etc all need to be actioned in hours and days, not weeks.

We are an industry that fuels travel, tourism, hotels, restaurants and bars. We ignite business in the markets served by the events we create, which has a knock-on effect on their supply chains across the UK and the World. We need clear and direct support now, to ensure our people, our businesses and our industry is in a fit state to help kick start the economy post Covid19.


Chris Skeith is the CEO of the Association of Event Organisers (AEO), which primarily works with the exhibitions industry. We have felt the need to publish this blog on Conference News as in these trying times we are all together, as one.