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UK: the world's meeting place

Paul Black, head of business events at VisitBritain, tells Louisa Daley about his new role and what developments are coming to the UK business events industry.

The UK events industry has an immense offering, particularly when it comes to business events. To understand our industry’s value and how it is being supported, we spoke to Paul Black, newly appointed head of business events at VisitBritain.

Roles, responsibilities and objectives

“The role of the business events team at VisitBritain is to showcase the UK internationally as the number one destination for business events, whilst supporting our destinations to secure future congresses and meetings, trade shows, exhibitions and incentive programmes,” reveals Paul Black, head of business events at VisitBritain.

Alongside this, the team strives to support the industry through government funding schemes, including the Business Events Growth Programme and the Domestic Support Fund. These funds, Black tells me, have supported the team in establishing the UK’s reputation in the business events market as “a diverse and dynamic destination, able to host business events of the highest calibre”.

“VisitBritain is also committed to the UK Government’s ambition, set out in its Tourism Recovery Plan, to improve the attractiveness of our strong business events offer and to position us as the ‘World’s Meeting Place’,” adds Black.

More specifically, in his new role as head of business events, Black reveals his key objective is to “connect the destinations across the UK, as well as industry bodies, to deliver effective support for the business events industry, aiding in driving back demand for business events”.

This support is even more significant now, he stresses, as before the pandemic. “The events industry was worth more than £31.2bn annually in direct visitor spending,” he says. Clearly, this statistic shows just how crucial the UK business events industry is to the visitor economy, and how it not only supports jobs and growing trade, but also how it delivers income and legacy.

“The UK business events industry provides a vital platform to promote the UK on a global scale,” adds Black.

Perception of the industry

Considering the value that the UK business events industry brings, I ask Black how we are currently perceived as a business events destination.

“Reflecting on the past 18 months and the challenges the industry has faced, and continues to overcome, the UK business events industry has consistently shown, on a global scale, its resilience and collaboration, working together to ensure it is ready to safely welcome back visitors,” says Black.

The UK is also being recognised for its ability to adapt. “With in-person meetings and events restricted in 2020, destinations, venues and agencies across the UK were at the forefront in enhancing their hybrid and virtual event technology, not only offering planners alternative ways to stay connected and to do business, but crucially keeping our outstanding international events offer front-of-mind,” he adds.

For instance, in June, the UK hosted the G7 Summit in Cornwall and, most recently, COP26 in Glasgow, which are “two globally significant events that focus on key challenges of our time”, says Black. On top of this, the UK will soon play host to a summit of Foreign and Development Ministers from the G7 in Liverpool. “These activities highlight that the UK is ready to meet again, demonstrating our ability to host large-scale, world-class business events,” he beams.

Key markets

Whilst this support is bound to drive more business events to the UK, what markets are our focus? “We want to ensure that the UK business events industry feels supported to secure international business, working closely with our destinations, venues and suppliers to aid them as they get back to what they do best,” says Black. As the industry bounces back from the pandemic, VisitBritain’s business events team will engage in all global markets, but with a specific focus on Europe and North America, Black tells me.

Furthermore, from 15-17 February 2022, VisitBritain will be holding its flagship MICE event: MeetGB Virtual. “This event aims to provide a flexible opportunity for UK suppliers and buyers domestically and internationally, helping them to reconnect and create crucial business opportunities whilst supporting the MICE industry build back demand for live events,” he states.

Looking ahead

As we look towards the future, we can expect to see some new developments coming to the UK business events industry. To name a few, the UK will host HM The Queen’s Platinum Jubilee, the Birmingham Commonwealth Games and UNBOXED: Creativity in the UK 2022, “all of which are major events which will be significant global tourism draws,” says Black.

Additionally, there are innovative infrastructure developments taking place, adds Black. For example, NewcastleGateshead has experienced major technological investment and, as a result, it has been named ‘The UK’s Smartest City’.

“We are also witnessing major investment into expanding our business events product offering. The new £260m convention centre, Gateshead Quays, will be opening in 2023; ExCeL London will be expanding to include a further 25,000sqm of venue space and the NEC Group are set to create 14,000sqm of new outdoor event space as part of its Birmingham campus redevelopment,” explains Black.

With so many events, investments and developments coming to the UK business events industry, we are well on track to becoming the ‘World’s Meeting Place’.