By Nick de Bois, chairman, UK Events Industry Board [Twitter: @nickdebois]
Last week the first ever Business of Events Senior Leadership Forum was held in London’s QEII Conference Centre. Bringing together representatives from across the private sector, government and VisitBritain, along with many other DMO’s and influencers, this event marked the next step in the collaboration between government and industry to help drive the UK as a destination of choice for major international congresses, exhibitions and conferences. I was delighted to attend as the chairman of the government’s UK Events Industry Board, which is the permanent body made up from private sector and government to advise ministers on what steps must be taken to deliver on the shared vision for the growth business events here in the UK, and the expansion of our international export business.
Two years ago, the UK Events Industry Board was established and met for the first time in January 2016. Its task was to advise government on behalf of the sector, advocate for the industry’s needs and act. Having convinced government that the events sector was not just a world leader and major contributor to the UK in its own right, we also successfully made the case that by helping the industry win & secure international events in key target industrial sectors such as life sciences, engineering and design, we could help champion the wider drive for exports and investment to the nations benefit.
What delegates at the Leadership Forum learnt was that considerable progress has been made already with the establishment of both an Event Support Programme, that provides both financial support and government ‘soft power’ support to help win new events, but crucially help internationalise existing events that have ambition to grow and drive more international delegates to these shores.
As we examine how to make the UK more welcoming and more competitive, the board has also turned its attention to matters of competitiveness across the events sector to ensure that, where necessary, government can intervene to improve strategic areas such as infrastructure, skills, education, delegate welcome and more. For all of these it is important that not only do we as a board ensure we reflect what are the private sector priorities, and the conference went a long way to reinforcing ideas to achieve that, we must ground our work in extensive research. Some of this was on clear display at the Forum, reporting on international perceptions of the UK as a destination of choice for event planners.
After nearly two years we have now, as a united sector, convinced ministers of the significance of the events industry, not least because the private sectors ambitions and skills for the industry will help government meet its own economic strategic goals to drive exports and inward investment. The events industry is the champion of UK business, and the minister for tourism, John Glen, recognises this. He made it very clear in his speech to delegates and international guests at a reception held the night before the Forum of his commitment to not just support the sector but ensure that across government we win the practical support to bolster bids for new events and internationalise existing ones from relevant secretaries of state and city mayors. That we no longer find it a huge struggle to get supporting video messages demonstrating how hungry both we as event organisers, and the UK nationally are to win and host major business events and festivals is something he is wholeheartedly committed to. I am pleased the much promised political will to support the sector seems to be in place. It is now important that the supply chain across the entire events sector; our amazing venues, our stunning creative agencies, hospitality companies and wide range of contractors both learn of this initiative and embrace it. As a board, we must turn more of our attention to engaging with these businesses, having spent much of the last two years enlisting real support from government.
With business events now fully embraced by the government agency VisitBritain, and now an integral part of the Tourism bid for an Industrial Sector Deal, the voice of the events sector is finally well placed at the policy making table of government to collaborate and drive this industry to new levels of success.