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UKCAMS report: Conference business dropped 86% in 2020

The 28th annual UKCAMS report has revealed a drop of 86% in the volume of conferences and meetings held in 2020 compared with 2019. At the same time, the estimated value of the sector fell from £17.6bn (the Business Visits and Events Partnership puts this at £19.4bn) in 2019 to £1.7bn in 2020.

The report suggests half of venues indicated that they expect their conference and meetings business to recover to 2019 levels by 2023, with a quarter more optimistic and indicating by 2022. In the short term, venues expect growth in hybrid meetings and a recovery in regular team meetings and training courses, with some hesitancy around the recovery of other markets such as national and international association conferences.

The UKCAMS 2021 report provides an overview of conference venue performance and the estimated impact of conference and meeting spend in destinations in 2020. This was a year where performance was hugely disrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic. In mid-March 2020 the UK went into its first lockdown and the conference sector was effectively closed. Impacts of Covid-19 were felt from late February as events were disrupted or cancelled with concerns around the virus. While small events of less than 30 people were permitted during the summer period, the conference sector remained closed for the rest of 2020.

195,000 conferences took place in 2020

In 2020 there was an average of 56 conferences and meetings held in primary conference venues, compared with 405 in 2019. An estimated total of 195,000 conferences and meetings were held in the UK (compared with 1.4m in 2019), the vast majority of these in the period January-March (not traditionally a core season for business events). These meetings were attended by some 11m delegates, accounting for approximately 15.7m delegate days. The average duration of events declined slightly, from 1.6 days to 1.4 days, although the majority of conferences and meetings (73%) lasted a day or less.

Unsurprisingly, the levels of investment by venues in their product also fell, with almost half of all venues not investing anything in 2020, a result of cash flow pressures and trading uncertainties.


VisitBritain’s head of business events Kerrin MacPhie, who takes over as chief executive of the Meetings Industry Association in November, said: “The findings in the report are a stark demonstration of the scale of the impact on the UK’s venues from the pandemic, providing the industry with valuable and timely insights.

“The report also underscores the importance of the work undertaken by the sector, its resilience and determination, in safely welcoming back global events and ensuring a stand-out delegate experience. The outlook for a strong return by 2023, a timeline also reflected in the UK Government’s Tourism Recovery Plan, is very encouraging as the industry reopens and starts on the road to rebuilding.”

Tony Rogers, speaking on behalf of the UKCAMS research team, said the report has “consistently demonstrated the scale and importance of this industry to the national economy.”

He said: “The 2021 UKCAMS research programme clearly quantifies the challenge the sector faces in its recovery and future UKCAMS research will monitor the progress it is making towards a successful recovery,”

The 2021 UKCAMS research was sponsored by VisitBritain with support from The research was carried out by Tony Rogers of Tony Rogers Conference & Event Services and Richard Smith of RJS Associates. Copies of the full UKCAMS 2021 report are available priced £185 + VAT. Click here to buy a copy.