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A message to the UK Government: what is the events industry?

Conference News editor Martin Fullard's leader from the latest issue is a direct message to Government, and calls for the industry to be shown the respect it deserves

What do you think of when you hear ‘events industry’? You would be forgiven for jumping towards Glastonbury, Wimbledon, or the British Grand Prix, but I’m sorry to say they are rather lazy examples.

The events industry, as a whole, is a vastly fragmented beast, which before the pandemic was worth £84bn to UK PLC annually. According to the DCMS-accepted UK Events Report (download the full report here), published in March 2020, and then attested by One Industry One Voice, conferences and meetings (often referred to as ‘business events’) were worth £18.3bn in direct spend annually. Elsewhere, exhibitions and trade shows: £11bn; incentive travel: £1.2bn; corporate outdoor events: £0.7bn; arts and cultural events: £5.6bn; festivals, fairs and shows: £6bn; sporting events: £9.6bn; weddings: £14bn (confirmed by #WhatAboutWeddings); and music events: £17.6bn.

That’s right, conferences and meetings are worth more to the UK annually than music events. It is therefore unbelievable that this sector gets no support and very little recognition in terms of official government classification, despite its importance being clearly evidenced by 2021’s G7 Summit and COP26. While some venues have been eligible for the Culture Recovery Fund, many more, as well as agencies, organisers, and suppliers, are not.

If anyone needs further evidence of how vital conferences and meetings are to local economies then do a Google Maps search for ‘conference centre’ on a selection of UK city centres and observe the supporting infrastructure of hotels, restaurants and amenities that surrounds them.

For context, pre-pandemic, events were worth £3.3bn to Liverpool annually, supporting 38,000 jobs. RJS Associates in December confirmed that the sector was worth £2.3bn to the West Midlands alone, which you can read here. Indeed, a new £260m events complex is currently under construction in Newcastle.

Boris Johnson has spoken often about ‘levelling up’, so perhaps making business events a central component of all regions’ business development plans should become a government priority.

This is not an industry that forever cries for financial support, it is quite happy to go about its business, leading on knowledge exchange and legacy. All it wants is to be properly recognised by government: to be properly administrated by Companies House, the Office for National Statistics, and the Treasury.

The conference and meetings industry may not have the voter appeal of music or hospitality, but it is no less important to the UK’s economic strength.