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Business events industry worth £27.6bn by 2026, finds report

A new report by Cities Restart has revealed that spending on international conferences and business events for the UK is estimated to have been worth £19.4bn in 2019. Following the interruption caused by the pandemic, by 2026 it is now expected to be worth £27.6bn, a 43% increase.

The report titled, ‘The Importance of International Conferences and Business Events to Restarting City Economies’, also found during the low point of the lockdown period, spending plummeted by 80% of 2019 levels.

The economic impact analysis commissioned by Cities Restart and carried out by Tourism Economics, has further found that inbound international delegates to international conferences and business events are significantly more lucrative than domestic delegates.

The research found that in 2019, the average international delegate was worth £864, whereas the value of an average domestic delegate was £154. By 2026, this is expected to grow to £1,078 for an international delegate and £180 for a domestic delegate. Meaning by then, international delegates will be worth six times their domestic counterparts.

The research also highlighted that the business events industry, which has been one of the sectors hardest hit by the pandemic, faces a number of challenges. The sector is not expected to rebound to 2019 levels until 2023, suggesting a slower and more protracted recovery. 

In particular, London’s business events sector, which accounts for 40% of all spending on international conferences and business events across the UK, faces a more challenging future due to its greater dependence on lucrative inbound international delegates.

With the research suggesting that in a worst-case scenario spending on business events in the capital may not return to 2019 levels until 2028 at the earliest. If the worst-case scenario is avoided, by 2026 spending on business events in London alone, is expected to be worth £10bn.

Business leaders are now calling on the Government to introduce additional support measures, particularly those aimed at boosting confidence and attracting delegates back to business events.

Jeremy Rees, chief executive of ExCeL London and advisory board member of Cities Restart, said: “This research further highlights the crucial role business events play in driving positive economic impact in our major cities. Events are a huge catalyst for trade, driving billions of pounds worth of import and export activity, supporting thousands of jobs.

"They are also a key driver of the visitor economy, helping sectors including public transport, hospitality, accommodation and aviation to thrive. We need to ensure that this vital sector gets the support it needs, including a comprehensive insurance scheme and measures to open-up international travel. This will enable the UK to retain a globally competitive, world class sector, that will drive our economy for years to come.”

Kate Nicholls OBE, chief executive of UK Hospitality, commented: “International conferences and business events support an interconnected economic eco-system. People attending these events also spend money on hotels, in restaurants, pubs and bars. The fact is the hospitality sector will not fully get back on its feet, until the business events sector is properly restarted.

"It is therefore imperative that the Government goes further in restarting and boosting the virtuous economic circle that business events help to drive. First and foremost, the Government must reassure the public and businesses that it is safe to attend events once more, confidence is key.”

Michael Hirst OBE, chair of the Events Industry Board, said: “Business events have a unique role to play is show-casing ‘Global Britain’ to the rest of the world in the post-Brexit economic era, as well as fulfilling the Government’s Tourism Recovery Plan ambition to make the UK the world’s meeting place.

"This ambition will be realised by a reinvigorated Industry, working together with enhanced support from Government and its agencies, attracting major international conferences to be held here in the UK.”

Gavin Hayes, director of aviation and travel at Cities Restart, added: “The message from our research is clear, if we are to effectively enable the rapid economic recovery of our cities post-Covid, then we must ensure we have a thriving business sector once more and capitalise on the economic opportunities they provide.

"With inbound international delegates set to be worth around six times domestic delegates in the not-so-distant future, we must do far more to attract these international visitors to attend UK-based business events. This must immediately include further steps to relax international travel restrictions safely.”