Large sections of the events industry in Scotland rely directly on the ability to attract international business, so the effects of Brexit, positive and negative, are currently being very keenly tracked by the sector.
Although the immediate aftermath of the June 23 vote to leave the EU was undoubtedly a shock to many, and the ongoing uncertainty (a word that keeps cropping up) hangs over the industry like a cloud, companies are reporting increased booking activity and invoices paid earlier than usual caused by the fall in the pound on currency markets. Of course, it is more expensive for many of our suppliers to now travel to Europe and beyond, but venues stand to potentially gain from increased interest in a more affordable destination, at least in the short term. However, the longer term picture remains unclear and there have been some noteworthy, albeit anecdotal reports of business being cancelled in the aftermath of the vote.
One exclusive use property in the Highlands – Achnagairn Castle near Inverness – was due to play host to a very wealthy individual for a birthday celebration in November, involving an international guest list, but the event was cancelled apparently by the client “in disgust” at the EU referendum result. Fortunately for Michael Lacey-Solymar, the venue owner, business over the July/August period has been booming. “He thought it was important to have the birthday here in November, over three days, but he just felt Brexit was a horrendous thing. That was the most obvious example that it was going to cause some impact but generally it’s gone very well.”
The Society of Incentive Travel Excellence is also reporting the short-term net positive effects of Brexit. James Aitken, President of SITE’s Scottish Chapter, said: “The obvious thing has been the currency – for the first time in years we are actually competitive again and that’s had a really positive impact,” he explains. “The other aspect is that there seems to be a lot of interest in Scotland. I’m not convinced it will make a huge difference to people’s decisions, it’s maybe more of interest politically, but whether it will affect business decisions as to whether they go here or there, I’m not so sure it will.”
Metro Ecosse – an international events management company and technical production specialists, based in Edinburgh – also were the unfortunate victims of a client’s decision to pull a piece of business in Germany in August. “It was just a period of uncertainty not long after the vote,” says Oscar Askin, the firm’s MD. “Although the event was later on in August, he made the decision to pull it mid-July. It was a software promotion [event]. The area that we were looking after was cancelled because the organiser had put up the money and had a lack of confidence post-Brexit. Maybe if they analysed it they were overreacting, but if there’s a fear of any financial uncertainty, if people don’t have confidence at the time they need to spend, they don’t spend.”
Over the longer term, though, Askin confesses to being worried about the impact of the vote on his business, which represents major international clients and regularly works on the continent. “I’m incredibly disappointed and worried about any future European work we have; I think the thing about companies like ours is that we travel out to places. We’re based in Edinburgh but we represent big international companies and they have markets beyond the borders of the UK, so they reach out to Europe. If it gets slightly more difficult to go to Europe, then that’s a big chunk of business that could go away.”