Some reflections on where the industry goes next as the outcomes of the first Business Events Leaders’ Summit in Scotland start to filter through

The business events industry in Scotland must ensure that political leaders truly grasp the real value of business events to the economy, the first strategy forum for the industry in Scotland has heard.

More than 120 delegates at the inaugural Business Events Leaders’ Summit in Glasgow on March 21 repeatedly heard the term ‘getting it’ as a reflection of the challenging job the MICE sector faces to explain so-called ‘beyond tourism’ benefits to policy leaders and business.

Although there is now a widespread recognition at senior levels within the Meetings, Incentives, Conferences & Exhibitions (MICE) industry – through initiatives such as the ‘Iceberg project’ supported by the Joint Meetings Industry Council (JMIC), and Incredible Impacts, a programme delivered by the International Congress and Convention Association (ICCA) and BestCities – that short-term economic impacts from business events are merely the tip of that iceberg, the sector must do more to communicate this message to government and business, the Summit heard.

In the final session of #BELS18 – the Business Events Debate – at the Scottish Event Campus (SEC), these challenges were explored in depth by some of the leading business events practioners in the UK. Tracy Halliwell MBE, who has helped develop a much more cross government and sectors approach at London & Partners, the capital’s convention bureau, was joined by Head of Business Events at VisitBritain, Kerrin MacPhie, Neil Brownlee, Head of Business Events at VisitScotland, Paul McCafferty, Head of Tourism at Scottish Enterprise, and Carina Bauer, Chief Executive of IMEX Group, which stages the world’s largest MICE trade shows in Frankfurt and Las Vegas.

All of the panellists agreed the industry must continually prove its worth to politicians, who frequently rotate, in order to stay relevant, obtain funding to help run and attract business events to the country and also to demonstrate that business events are about long-term economic and social change as well as a tool to lever inward investment, supporting wider economic aims to stimulate key sectors. A long-term benefit of hosting a business event might include a new breakthrough in medical research or the development of a cure, which might be traced back to a particular conference or meeting. Such measures go ‘beyond’ the traditional way of evaluating the impact of business events, which focuses on the spend in pounds or dollars on hotels, restaurants and the related visitor economy, and can best be told through good ‘storytelling’ – which can have a more meaningful impact and better recall than a statistic.

But one of the major stumbling blocks for the industry is to try and clearly communicate its higher purpose to government, its own industry and the wider business community, as Carina Bauer, CEO of IMEX Group, told 120 delegates at the event.

“It’s really difficult and that’s the point, because they [politicians] get it but not quite enough yet,” she said.

“But if you look around, quite a lot of people in the industry don’t get it yet and what we’re talking about is quite difficult conceptually; it’s a very high-level strategic approach to events and if you talk to a lot of meetings planners in corporations and planners in agencies and maybe a sales manager in a small hotel they’re not really thinking about this. And so I think until we really find a way to tell those stories throughout the industry, as well – because at the end of the day there are a lot of people in this industry and we really need to be able to drive those stories through for people to understand it in a very simple way.

She added: “It will make it easier in the end for politicians to get it and maybe it will make it easier for organisers of events like this and events like ours to attract the politicians in because at the end of the day if they hear these discussions it will make a difference.”

Kerrin MacPhie, Head of Business Events at VisitBritain, added: “I think the longer term gain from business events and the role that I play as Head of Business Events at VisitBritain is to actually support the whole industrial strategy that Britain has about increasing productivity, innovation and skills around really key sectors that will help to grow and develop our economy across the UK. Business events can really focus on those key sectors so they can help to drive interest, spread global knowledge and actually help on the inward investment and economic front as well. Business events as a sector can really support the sectors that government are focusing on for growth; we can be out there really pushing Britain’s reputation as a global destination to hold fantastic events across the UK and actually in turn support those sectors that we need to grow for greater development in the future.”

EventsBase will produce a detailed outcomes report for the Summer issue of its magazine and will be announcing some important #BELS18 news soon.