More than a hundred meetings industry buyers from across Europe, North America and Asia attended the first-ever MeetGB event in London on Thursday.

The two-day event at London’s Hilton Bankside Hotel on the warmest day of the year marked the start of a new concept for VisitBritain’s Business Events, which is embarking on a renewed period of engagement with international MICE markets.

The organisation appointed Kerrin MacPhie, formerly Director of Conference and Exhibition Sales at ACC Liverpool, as Head of Business Events in November last year as part of government-backed moves into supporting Britain’s meetings industry infrastructure.

MacPhie spoke of her satisfaction after concerted efforts by her team to deliver a format which would appeal to event buyers: a combination of familiarisation (‘fam’) trips to 10 destinations across the UK from Monday to Wednesday, followed by the MeetGB speed-dating style appointments held between 120 buyers and 80 exhibitors, totalling 6,700 meetings over the duration of the event on Thursday and Friday.

A ministerial event was also held on the Wednesday evening where the new Tourism Minister Michael Ellis welcomed delegates and on Thurday evening a gala dinner with entertainment was held at at Church House Westminster, with a welcome speech from Sally Balcombe, CEO of VisitBritain.

MacPhie said: “Today has been a success. The buyers are all, every single buyer I’ve spoken to, has been happy with their experience today. They’ve enjoyed and benefited from the conversations they’ve had with suppliers, which is really, really good and the suppliers have loved the experience of having that one-to-one time. So, it’s been positive all round.”

Macphie opened proceedings at the event today, which was held over two floors at the venue, by welcoming delegates and pledging to support their activities. “It’s a new chapter for me,” she said. “I joined the organisation in November and that’s been the experience I’ve had, but from November it’s all been about business events, which are very much on the radar. Government really gets that the sector is focused on supporting the industrial strategy and those key sectors that will develop the UK economy going forward.”

Buyers and exhibitors then met in a series of pre-arranged appointments after buyers – who had spent the previous few days in places like England’s Shakespeare country, in Stratford-upon-Avon, Aberdeen, Manchester and Brighton – returned to the capital. Groups of five to 10 ‘hosted buyers’ visited the destinations for three days beginning Monday this week; buyers from France, Germany, Switzerland and the Netherlands went on the Aberdeen trip and visited venues including Marcliffe Hotel where delegates were staying, Norwood Hall for a show round and lunch and Ardoe House Hotel & Spa. They also went on a tour of Old Aberdeen and visited the new AECC construction site. In the Edinburgh and Perthshire visit, buyers went to venues including The Old Chambers and The Hub in Edinburgh as well as Edinburgh Castle; they also went to Hopetoun House, Scone Palace and Perth Racecourse.

Overall, Scotland was well-represented at the event and exhibitors included Exclusively Scotland, K&N Travel Associates Ltd, Meetings Perthshire, Susan Reid Collection, Glasgow Convention Bureau, the AECC, VisitAberdeenshire, Surgeons Quarter Edinburgh, Historic Environment Scotland and VisitScotland Business Events.

Catriona Anderson, Sales Manager of Meetings Perthshire, left, with Les Maitland, Managing Director of Exclusively Scotland and Susan Reid, Owner of Susan Reid Collection at the MeetGB event in London.

Les Maitland, Managing Director of DMC Exclusively Scotland, said: “It’s been a very effective morning in terms of quality of leads. The proof will be in the follow-ups but so far it’s been a good format and a cost-effective way of reaching buyers.”

Susan Reid, whose Susan Reid Collection includes nine properties, ranging from Loch-side country homes to baronial castles, added: “It’s been very good actually, especially with the American buyers who really like our castles and country properties. It’s a good concept and there seems to be a real interest in Scotland.”

Catriona Anderson, Sales Manager of Meetings Perthshire, which represents 15 conference venues, added: “It’s been really productive; it’s nice to meet such a range of clients on a one-to-one basis. From my point of view it’s been great to educate buyers on what Meetings Perthshire has to offer – it’s a great opportunity to give them a snapshot into Perthshire as a destination.”

Buyers also appeared satisfied with the format, with Andreas Miksche, Country Manager, Austria, for Mertel Events, a MICE specialist with offices also in the Czech Republic and Slovak Republic, commenting: “The fam trip was quite interesting as I wouldn’t have seen this part of middle England [Shakespeare’s county]; I wouldn’t have had it on my radar for incentive trips but now I’m a little bit more familiar with it. The format of MeetGB has been a very nice idea because you get an overview of what is available.”

The only criticism, he added, was that he had to commit to meeting 30 suppliers, which he said was a little bit “too much” and he was actually only interested in meeting 10. He said he was particularly interested in Wales, where the new £80m ICC Wales conference centre is due to open in Newport in July 2019.

The morning began at precisely 9:30am with the one-to-one appointments, which were timed so that buyers had exactly 14 minutes with exhibitors with a ‘minute’ to move between desks. The style followed the popular format developed by international MICE platforms such as M&I Forum.

When questioned about the format, exhibitors who spoke to EventsBase said it had worked well and that they secured some good prospects; immediate bookings are rare but many were invited to submit follow-up proposals. They also spoke of the good value for money for the ability to exhibit to key international buyers from countries including the US, France, Germany, Switzerland, Poland, Russia, India, Austria, Spain and the Netherlands.

In parallel to the main forum, a series of educational workshops were presided over by Irish meetings industry experts Patrick Delaney and Padraic Gilligan, of Soolnua Marketing.

The affable duo kicked off with their own ‘introduction and the current MICE landscape’; successive sessions included ‘trends and innovations in technology for meetings and events’, delivered by Miguel Neves of Social Media Chefs; ‘Discussion on Crisis Management’ with Carina Bauer, CEO of IMEX Group, and ‘Practical Data Safety and Security’ with Simon Clayton, Chief Ideas Officer at RefTech.

“We’ve created this event and it’s taken a lot of hard work to get to where we are and being here and seeing how smoothly it has operating pays credit to the team.” MacPhie added.

MeetGB is hosted by VisitBritain in partnership with London & Partners, VisitEngland, Visit Wales, VisitScotland and Tourism Northern Ireland.