Understanding the global impact of events
The impact business events have on a global scale, the recognition this receives and how the true impact can be measured were all topics up for discussion at a recent roundtable event held at London’s QEII Centre.
Following on from an economic impact study by Grant Thornton which revealed gross expenditure associated with events held at the QEII Centre has contributed £327.5m to the UK economy, the centre brought a panel of industry representatives together to discuss the wider impact of events around the world.
Taking part in the debate was Mark Taylor, chief executive of the QEII Centre; Fiona Macdonald, senior manager business events at VisitBritain; Caroline Mackenzie, director of Global Association Partners; and Emma Cashmore, founder and director of Axis Travel Marketing. The roundtable was moderated by Natalie Blachford, senior account manager at Custard Communications; and James Bogle, marketing manager at the QEII Centre.
The discussion began by looking at what impact events have, and it was agreed that the economic impact is the most often referred to and easiest to measure outcome.
Events aren’t just contributing to economies though, as Emma Cashmore said: “Events drive economies – with the destinations I’ve worked with you see how the industry can aid infrastructure in terms of improved transport and accommodation. In Colombia for example, hosting the One Young World Global Summit last year has led to a substantial increase in five-star hotels which then benefit the tourism industry for years to come.”
Education was identified as another key long-term positive impact of events, albeit one that is harder to quantify.
Caroline Mackenzie said: “I work mainly with associations, and associations are the biggest formal educators across the globe. Typically, with an association event 20-25% of attendees are local because it’s affordable to attend, and you are bringing world knowledge to them; being able to train and educate local workforce is one of the ‘hidden benefits’ through the collaborations, the ongoing research and the outreach.”
Leveraging sector profile and growth was also talked about as a benefit of events, with London Tech Week used as a prime example of that, as not only is it generating economic value, but it’s helping to drive the image and reputation of London as a tech city. Fiona Macdonald explained: “The reason Tech Week is important to London is because tech is a significant sector for the city, it isn’t only because of delegate spend.”
Canada has had similar success by aligning its business events strategy with key sectors, with technology also a key focus for them. Emma Cashmore said: “Business Events Canada exhibited at London Tech Week and many people asked us why, but we explained the connection between investment in Canada for tech start-ups and bringing in conferences and attracting local knowledge, and it was really fruitful.”
Tackling the question of whether or not the value of events is really appreciated outside of the sector and supported by governments, it was clear that the destinations that have seen the greatest success within their business events sectors are those that have the support of government. Singapore was given as an example of a country which by making a concerted investment in its tourism industry, grew its annual visitors from 99,000 to 18.5m and is now thriving.
Measuring the impact of events is undoubtedly a challenge, largely due to the vast and fragmented nature of the industry. Mark Taylor explained: “The difficulty you have, is that there is not one consolidated source of data about the outputs of the event sector. It’s so much more than the daily delegate rate, there’s so much that’s not recorded. Different sectors overlap with the reporting e.g. conference venues and hotels crossing over. There isn’t one organisation dealing with this and collecting the information.”
Some of the benefits of events may not be seen until years later either; Mark Taylor giving the example of a conference in Australia where an immunologist met someone at a networking event who would become his partner, and together they would go on to develop the HPV vaccine which has now been administered to over 400m patients.
Fiona Macdonald agreed, saying: “Some of these moments are serendipitous and unexpected, which can be difficult for researchers to accurately capture and track these impacts. However, the work being conducted by the University of Technology Sydney, measuring the social legacies of business events, is incredibly interesting.”
Caroline Mackenzie also stressed the importance of looking at the longer-term benefits of the event, giving the example of the World Parkinson Congress that was held in Glasgow. She said: “Of all the events I’ve been involved in, that’s the one where I was most humbled. As organisers we look at events methodically and logistically, dealing with the practicalities, and the end result you don’t often see. This event brought together the experts and the patient community, so you could see the difference it actually made to the lives of patients and how appreciative they are – the true impact of the event.”
Looking to the future, the participants in the roundtable agreed that measuring the full ROI of an event is key, considering that different stakeholders are looking for different returns as a measure of success. Trade and investment were cited as ‘the missing piece’ currently, but with initiatives such as JMIC’s Iceberg, the industry is striving to do better and prove the value that everyone working in it already knows to exist.