The head of business tourism at Convention Edinburgh has said a potential funding cut of £790,000 will “severely compromise” the city’s ability to attract conferences and jeopardise activity worth £72m to the economy.
Amanda Ferguson, who runs a 14-strong team which works to attract international business events coming into the capital, said losing the convention bureau would be a major blow to the city’s worldwide standing as a place for hosting high-profile conferences, especially for the academic and economic sectors which it supports as part of a sector growth strategy.
Councillors are currently evaluating a budget proposal, which includes plans to slash funding to Marketing Edinburgh, under which Convention Edinburgh sits; according to a plan being rubber stamped today by the council’s finance committee, Marketing Edinburgh could lose £790,000 of its £890,000 funding package, which would potentially decimate its ability to promote Edinburgh’s tourism and events message worldwide.
A public consultation to the ‘Change Strategy‘ is currently underway, closing on February 11, and Marketing Edinburgh is urging industry and the public to respond in order to remind councillors – who will vote on plans to slash the cash-strapped council’s budget by a total of £41m next year – of the economic impact that conferences bring to the city.
The plan will go to full council on February 21 and if voted through, there will be an immediate funding deficit come April 1st, the next financial year. Privately, councillors hope that the hospitality industry – in the form of local stakeholder groups and business associations – will step in to make up the shortfall.
It is understood that Convention Edinburgh’s Conference Ambassador network – made up of leading academics and business figures across Edinburgh – is preparing to intervene next week, as the backlash against the proposed cuts grows.
A growing campaign has already attracted the likes of leading Scottish marketing agencies such as Union, Whitespace, The Lane, Always Be Content, Punk and Bright Signals, some of whom have worked on marketing campaigns for the likes of Calmac, Tennent’s, Scotrail and T in the Park.
They wrote: “So, spare a thought for Marketing Edinburgh – the body that promotes Scotland’s Capital – who just days ago found out that the city of Edinburgh Council intends to almost immediately remove 64% of its budget from the organisation, rising to 89% in year two. The proposal – if passed – will go live in a little over eight weeks, leaving Edinburgh as the only major city in the developed world without a Destination Marketing Management Organisation.”
Amanda Ferguson, Head of Business Tourism at Convention Edinburgh, said: “It’s encouraging that Scotland’s marketing community are behind us in the face of the proposed budget cuts. We’ve also received support from Scotland’s business tourism community too.
“Removing more than £0.5M from Marketing Edinburgh’s financial plans would leave Scotland’s Capital as the only major city in the developed world without a Destination Marketing Management Organisation, which includes Edinburgh’s Convention Bureau, putting the £72M created by business tourism at risk.
“Without a body that unites public and private sectors in the city’s promotion and economic development, we will severely compromise Edinburgh’s ability to attract conferences, meetings and other corporate events. It is important we maintain the services of the convention bureau that represents the city in a comprehensive and impartial manner to keep the business tourism market thriving in an uncertain political climate.”
VisitScotland’s Head of Business Events, Neil Brownlee, was also reported to have written a letter of support, which was published in the Scotsman, warning that the decision to cut funding for business events in Edinburgh would be “astounding“. He reportedly wrote: “To be a successful city, you need to have a convention bureau. That’s what the clients want. There needs to be that level of co-ordination.
“Without a convention bureau, Edinburgh simply would not be adept or prepared to be a player – at any level – in business events. This is not a market that tolerates ‘amateur hour’. They simply go elsewhere, where they are understood.”
When contacted by EventsBase, Mr Brownlee said that he had not written a letter, however. VisitScotland instead issued us with a statement instead, which read: “This is an internal matter for the City of Edinburgh Council. Any reduction of investment in tourism is of concern as the sector plays a significant role in the economic growth of our capital city. However, we understand that difficult decisions have to be made in the current economic environment. We will continue to promote Edinburgh as a critical part of the tourism mix in Scotland.”
The proposal comes at a time when other leading destinations are investing in local convention bureau. In Aberdeen, where The Event Complex Aberdeen (TECA) is due to open later this year, a new convention bureau head was appointed last year in a bid to attract international events to the new facilities.