It’s a time to hold one’s nerve, says industry veteran
and QEII Conference Centre Chief Executive Ernest Vincent. There is a promising
future ahead, and also a need for – whisper it loud – subvention.
I joined the meetings, exhibitions and events
industry at the time of the last ‘big’ financial upset in the mid 70s. It was
as tough then as it is now. But then – as will certainly be the case
again – we succeeded in filling our venues and creating new events of all
descriptions. During the 80s I worked with the NEC in Birmingham; the
marketplace was difficult but occupancy of the massive halls grew; new halls
were built and a huge part of Birmingham’s economic regeneration was due in no
small part to the creation of the NEC and the ICC, backed by the clear vision,
foresight and determination of a very supportive city council and chamber of
commerce. Exciting times indeed.
Experiencing the miracle of the Asian Tigers
firsthand was enlightening. As one of the founding directors of the Hong Kong
Convention and Exhibition Centre, the venue opened to worldwide acclaim in
1988. It became a success almost overnight. Behind that success was a clear
intention on the part of Hong Kong to attract more business tourists than it
had done in thepast.
My final stint abroad was with the City of
Toronto and SMG (the US facility management group) at Exhibition Place in
Toronto, a multi-functional 200 acre site for trade shows conferences sport and
entertainment. Over 4.5m visitors attend events there every year.
Both Hong Kong and Toronto, and the other cities
in which I worked abroad, were then, and are still now, absolutely dedicated to
and supportive of business tourism as a means to generate economic well-being.
Since 2003 I have been managing The Queen
Elizabeth II Conference Centre in Westminster – a smaller venue to others I
have managed before but packed each year with between 300-400 very high profile
events. And yes, recently we have felt the effect of recent changes within the
The banking crisis and the commitment by the
coalition government to reduce debt has altered the nature of public events and
the impact has been felt, not only by us but by many others too. In spite of
this our business remains viable and in one of the most challenging years since
we opened in 1986, we will still record a trading surplus. Such is the
resilience of our industry. Our business will grow again strongly and my money
is on it improving significantly from 2012.
Now is not a time to discount heavily and
undersell the brand. It’s not a time to drop service levels or cut corners.
It’s a time to hold nerve and have complete confidence in the product we sell
and resist the temptation to offer silly prices to gain occupancy. Because, put
simply, there is a promising future ahead.
We now have enough venue capacity for the time
being – the investment in infrastructure has already been made. There is
clearly a greater understanding now, that has been the case before, of the
value of business tourism to the economy. The argument has been articulated.
Tourism brings into the UK about £115bn. Business Tourism accounts for
about £35bn of that. The business tourism sector also accounts for over
half a million jobs.
An investment now needs to be made in promoting
all sectors of the business tourism industry to attract major conferences,
exhibitions, sport and events to come to our isles. We must and we can get a
larger share of the business tourism market. Yes, it rains a lot in the UK and
the skies can be grey, but that’s not a reason why business tourists won’t
come. They will come if we have enough resource devoted to an effective
marketing campaign. None of us can do this alone – a joined up effort is required.
In the late seventies and throughout the
eighties it was about building the conference and exhibition infrastructure.
Times have changed: it’s now about putting investment into marketing and
promotion (dare I say subvention?) to attract international exhibitions,
conventions and events that will fill our venues to capacity and earn a
significant amount of money for our cities.
What a wonderful prospect there is ahead for us all!
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