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The UK Events Report: executive summary

The executive summary which accompanies the UK Events Report highlights true value of industry before Covid-19 impacted. Download the full report here.

The UK Events Report follows the outlines of the government’s modern Industrial Strategy, exploring ideas, people, infrastructure, business environment and places. The events industry responds to all these elements. Time and time again it has been said that “events tick all the boxes” of a pre-eminent economic sector that can deliver major opportunities for the UK.

Events have so much to offer UK plc. They support the industrial strategy of the UK by positioning Britain as a centre of commerce, attracting companies and industries to do business in our country. They are also an ever-increasing export opportunity as they grow into new territories, creating inward investment opportunities, selling UK skills, expertise and products abroad.

Britain already plays host to an impressive number of high-profile world events from major political, commercial, medical, scientific and educational conferences, trade and consumer exhibitions to leading cultural, sporting and music festivals every year. Now there is a growing appreciation by government and the wider business community of the value and the broader economic, social and cultural benefits of the events industry to the UK.

Read more: BVEP releases UK Events Report

Business events, whether meetings, association events or trade exhibitions, underpin sectoral growth in the economy, attract foreign direct investment, and promote expertise and knowledge transfer opportunities. Festivals, consumer shows, sporting events, and other cultural and music events all help to animate a destination which, in turn, drives more tourism, more business visitors and investors, and students wishing to come to the UK to study – whether that be in  the area of event management or in other disciplines.

Events also stimulate thought leadership through the sharing of knowledge, research and intelligence that progresses scientific and technological understanding

and innovation. They also bring communities together, whether they are united by a common geography, interest, cause or belief. Finally, events attract international audiences to the UK, who buy our products and services and, in many cases, return with their families, boosting and complementing the UK tourism industry.

In total, the UK’s events industry is estimated to be worth £70bn in direct spend, accounting for over 50% of the UK visitor economy.

Over £31bn of this total is comprised of business events, principally meetings, conferences, and exhibitions, while almost £39bn is contributed by leisure events, including arts and cultural events, music events and festivals, and sporting and recreational events, as detailed below:

Sub-sector Direct spend
Conferences and meetings £18.3bn
Exhibitions and trade fairs £11bn
Incentive travel £1.2bn
Corporate outdoor events  £0.7bn
Arts and cultural events  £5.6bn
Festivals, fairs and shows £6bn
Music events £17.6bn
Sporting events £9.6bn
Weddings £14bn

In 2018 inbound business visits to the UK represented 22% of all visits, contributing 8.4m visits and £4.5bn in spend. Inbound business events attendees are valuable visitors, spending 30% more on average than leisure visitors.

In 2018 there were almost 5.3m trips to the UK to attend a business event, generating almost 20m overnight stays and a spend of £3.5bn. 2017 research found that delegates from outside Europe spent £1,748 on average, compared to £990 by delegates from within Europe, and £329 for UK delegates. Crucially, delegates who extend their trip for leisure spend twice as much as those who do not.

However, it would be a mistake to focus only on the economic benefits that events can bring to the countries and cities of the UK, and to smaller towns and local communities. Events play a vital role in professional development, teambuilding and performance improvement, community enrichment, charitable donations, celebrations, personal enjoyment and fulfilment, and a wide range of other benefits for individuals, communities and businesses.

Wider Benefits and Legacies of Events

As well as the economic impacts of both business and leisure events, there is now much wider recognition of the many other benefits to accrue from hosting and staging conferences and other business events: research sharing, knowledge transfer, professional development, networking and relationship building, and the attraction of inward investment opportunities are among such benefits.

By attracting events from around the world, their delegates not only bring that economic benefit that is so vital to our economy, spending on everything from hotels to transport, restaurants to attractions. They bring their own global leaders and thinkers to discuss, debate, learn and share.

And, by doing so, they engage with our own leaders and institutions in their particular fields: medicine, science, technology, aerospace, communications, finance and many that will last for decades and influence our communities for generations.

Volume and Value of the UK Conference Market

In 2018, there were an estimated 1.48m conferences and meetings in the UK. These events were attended by 95.3m delegates accounting for approximately 152.8m delegate days. There was an average of 428 conferences and meetings per venue in 2018 – this was up on 2017 (373 events) and 2016 (419 events). The average event duration was 1.6 days.

The UK is fifth in the latest global ICCA rankings for staging international association congresses. However, in similar rankings published by the UIA, the UK is in ninth place, suggesting that, while the country is doing well, it could do even better

Exhibitions Generate £11 billion for the UK Economy

In 2018 exhibitions in the UK generated £11bn in spending and contributed £5.4bn in value-added to the UK economy. This activity supported 114,000 jobs in the UK

UK exhibitions attracted over 9.1m visitors in 2018 to almost 1,100 major events across a range of sectors for both trade and consumer audiences. Over 178,000 exhibiting companies participated in events.

Just 23 UK-based AEO members organised over 1,000 events outside of the UK in 2018-19, creating £2.17bn of turnover for these UK overseas expected their overseas exhibition turnover to increase over the next twelve months.

Two UK companies, Reed and Informa, top the global rankings of exhibition organising companies, with significantly higher turnover than any of their competitors.

Incentive Travel

Incentive travel programmes are now back on companies’ radar, with a deeper appreciation of their effectiveness for motivating and rewarding staff and dealers. The clear connection between incentive travel programmes and corporate revenues is proven and companies have re-committed to such events.

Outdoor Events

In 2018, there were 141.5m visits to outdoor events in the UK, with a total on-site and off-site spend of £39.5bn. The Gross Value Added (GVA) contribution was £30.4bn, with a full- time equivalent employment of just under 600,000 people.

Outdoor music events and festivals provide the greatest economic contribution, with the highest spend per event visit, GVA contribution and employment. Music and recreational events predominantly encourage overnight stays, supporting accommodation providers (including retailing of mobile accommodation) as well as food, drink, travel, durable goods and merchandise suppliers.

Music Events

The area of the live music industry defined as ‘music tourism’ generated £4.5bn in spend in 2018, rising 13% from £4bn in 2017

The music industry’s rich and varied programme of concerts and festivals continues to attract an increasing number of fans. In 2018, 29.8m people attended live music events in the UK, a rise of 2% from 29.1m in 2017. Total concert attendance in 2018 remained level at 24.9m, but again the biggest growth was festivals, where the total audience rose by 23% to 4.9m

Sporting Events

Sports tourism has been central to the growth in global travel and tourism during the new millennium. Sport also has a role to play in helping to address wider social issues: it can help to address gender inequality and assists with the development of life skills such as leadership, decision making, organisational and management skills. Sport can also act as an effective medium for conveying educational messages relating to health issues such as HIV/AIDS awareness and malaria.

Major events can deliver directly, or act as catalysts for, wider social impacts or environmental impacts.

The social impact of an event concerns its effect on the people and communities around which it takes place and includes, amongst other things, the development of skills and volunteering, inspiring participation and delivering satisfaction.

How events deliver on the UK’s Industrial Strategy

In 2017 the government published its Industrial Strategy. In introducing the strategy, the government said that, while the UK has significant economic strengths which can

be built upon, more needs to be done to increase productivity and make the most of the untapped potential right across the country. It undertook to boost productivity and earning power across the country by focusing on the five foundations of productivity.

1. Ideas – Events to be the world’s most innovative sector

The UK has been at the forefront of technology innovation and adoption for many years. This includes the events industry. It is an area that has seen rapid growth

in the innovation of new technology types and adoption of both home-grown and imported technologies.

The report describes a number of key ways in which the events industry supports and delivers the government’s objectives of increasing creativity and innovation across the UK economy. It also shows the UK’s leading-edge position in the development and application of technology for the management of events.

Creating events is very much part of the creative industries. Event creative includes the development of new concepts and ideas, driven by strategic insight, designed to bring

a brand to life in a fresh way. From advertising agencies to architecture to broadcast media to event agencies, the IP (intellectual property) is in creative thinkers dreaming up ideas and concepts that can then be produced.

Event services tend to fall into two buckets: strategy and creative-led event planning, and production-led event delivery. Today’s larger event agencies often offer robust services in each bucket, whilst smaller agencies are closely aligned to other ‘creative industry’ companies. Event creative includes the development of new concepts and ideas, driven by strategic insight, designed to bring a brand to life in a fresh way.

The global growth trend and the UK’s contribution to this have been aided by three factors: first, by the cultural trend of increased technology adoption rates for events; second, the trend of an increase in UK-based innovations; and, finally, through the expanding trend of London as a global technology hub.

2. People - The UK is renowned for the skills and experience of its events people

As an industry, events lead to the employment of over 700,000 people from

apprenticeship level upwards. The events industry could not exist without human capital. Despite advances in technology, events rely on people for their existence, such as the creativity and the human empathy that they provide.

Human capital is the stock of skills, knowledge and experience that a person or workforce possesses. A major part of event management is the leadership and management of human resources. As an industry it is important to understand the nature of this human capital, its advancement and flows.

Recognition of the importance of people to the events industry was demonstrated by the setting up of a Talent Taskforce by the Events Industry Board. The purpose of this was to assess the skills, talent and human resource processes across the events industry in order to produce an evidence-based report for ministers that would provide key recommendations to government, and the industry, to remain competitive on a global scale. The aim is to help the events industry develop a sustainable, competitive, highly skilled workforce, aligning with the Department for International Trade’s “Attract, Create and Grow” vision for events and trade fairs in the UK.

The Events Industry Board Talent Taskforce survey (EIB TTF) identified a shortage in event- specific skills within the workforce. There were five consistent areas where these shortages existed: sales and business development, project management, creatives, technical and client handling. Fifty-four per cent of respondents believed that the majority of the absence of these skills sits at mid-level within their businesses.

3. Infrastructure – The ongoing need for investment

Competitor countries are investing in new space, both in well-established event destinations and newly emerging destinations.

While the UK undoubtedly has a good record for investing in the physical infrastructure required for a 21st century events industry, there will continue to be a need for ongoing investment, whether this is to increase capacity through new or refurbished venues, to adjust existing facilities to meet the changing demands of today’s and tomorrow’s events, or to improve the transport links into the UK from overseas, within the UK between destinations, or, at a local level, for transportation of event delegates and attendees within and across individual cities.

However, an Events Industry Board working group identified that the UK only has two venues ‘of scale’ which, during prime time, are almost completely booked. The consensus was that this limits the opportunity for the UK to win and expand its international base of exhibitions

and congresses at peak times. This is replicated amongst hotel room availability.

In terms of transport and rail infrastructure, all significant projects as well as new government strategy documents should take into account event venues in their feasibility studies/workflows.

4. Business environment – Great growth opportunities

Events can play a major role in asserting Britain’s international trading strength, highlighting components of its emerging industrial strategy, its creativity and commercial inventiveness and bringing the country together to present its intrinsic values.

A report drafted by the BVEP in 2016 suggests that there is an opportunity for the events industry to ‘position itself as an integral part of the broader trading nation that needs to re-define itself with the European Union and forge new trade agreements with other international markets. In other words, the future success of the UK events industry is also inexorably linked to the longer term impacts on the key industrial sectors it serves.’

In June 2019 the government published its ‘International Business Events Action Plan 2019-2025.

The UK government’s vision is for the UK to maintain its position as a leading European country for hosting business events, conferences and congresses. To do this, the government wants to help create new international business events, attract more existing events to the UK, grow our already successful events and retain those that might be thinking about leaving.

To meet these objectives, the Action Plan outlines the provision of six different types of support to the business events sector: government advocacy; financial support; destination marketing; arrivals and welcome; capacity and connectivity; government coordination.

VisitBritain’s Business Events Growth Programme forms part of the government’s commitment to build the business events sector, supporting the attraction of international business events which align with the government’s priority industry sectors, and growing the international profile of business events in the UK.

The Business Events Growth Programme offers three types of support:

• Bid Enhancement & Support for the winning of new international business events for the UK

• International Delegate Growth

to support the growth of existing business events in the UK

• Government Advocacy to support the UK’s business events industry. VisitBritain and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) can provide Government Advocacy (soft power) to support the UK’s business events sector, by working with cross- government partners.

Further support could also involve the global GREAT Britain campaign, through branding and marketing support. This campaign showcases the best of what the UK has to offer to inspire the world and encourages people to visit, do business, invest and study in the UK.

The global GREAT Britain campaign is the government’s most ambitious international promotional campaign ever, uniting the efforts of the public and private sectors to generate jobs and growth for Britain.

5. Places

VisitBritain, the tourism marketing agencies of the devolved administrations and destination

marketing organisations are working to attract and stage successful events so that communities can benefit from such activity.

VisitBritain is focused on raising awareness with buyers and organisers to consider the UK for business events. Together with VisitEngland, its strategy is designed to increase business wins to the UK and support the key pillars of the British Tourist Authority’s corporate strategy:

• Growing value – by targeting the high spend segment afforded by business events.

Just a single business event win can have a large, concentrated economic impact

• Improving productivity: business events are year-round, but with high peaks of activity in spring and autumn. Capacity mapping can help the events industry to fill gaps in occupancy more effectively

• Enabling dispersal – business events activity is very concentrated in London. English regional destinations need support to be more competitive and to access international markets

• Being the expert body: business events are a major priority for the UK government. They can also act as an enabler for the government’s industrial

strategy and a catalyst for trade and investment in priority sectors.

Tourism Northern Ireland’s (Tourism NI) brand proposition demonstrates what is offered to event buyers when choosing to meet in Northern Ireland.

VisitScotland’s Events Directorate is responsible for supporting and developing Scotland’s events industry and its wide and diverse events portfolio. It focuses on three main areas:

1. Building on its previous work and the legacy of 2014 to attract, sustain and develop major events, festivals and business events and maximise their impact

2. Leading and advising the events industry, providing information and training, sharing best practice and working with the industry to focus on quality delivery

3. Using events to maintain and enhance Scotland’s international reputation,

influencing partners to develop Scotland’s infrastructure.

Located within the Welsh Government, the Visit Wales Business Events team promotes Wales as a destination for meetings, incentives, team building, events and conferences. It provides impartial and free advice on products and venues across Wales that cover city, countryside and coastal locations in a mix of modern, historical and purpose-built facilities, supported by spectacular landscapes, incentives and accommodation options.

Image: International Confex, ExCeL London, 25-26 Feb 2020 | Aniseed Photo