On Wednesday 24th November, Scotland’s national tourism industry conference will take place at the EICC, welcoming more than 350 delegates for two days of insights from our biggest line up of speakers to date. Many will also tune in online for the all-important takeaways which will make a marked difference in how we as an industry rebuild together. 

The last conference took place days before we saw the gravity of the pandemic unfold. The First Minister was in attendance to launch Scotland’s tourism strategy, with the bold vision that Scotland will be the leaders in 21st century tourism. 

The pause button on delivering that strategy hasn’t stayed entirely pressed since March 5, 2020. Much work has been done by the STA, the Scottish Government and public agency partners to align the strategy with our ‘new world’, looking through the Covid lens and next week will be the first opportunity to re-engage our industry on a significant scale, with that vision being front of mind. 

Like so much we once took for granted, having the opportunity to attend a business event is hugely welcomed by many. Industry conferences and events will not only be the glue to help all sectors reconnect and strengthen through knowledge sharing and networking, they will be key to the recovery of our cities and businesses within numerous sectors including hospitality, retail, transport and visitor attractions. 

The forecast for business events is strong; a recent report published by Cities Restart entitled The Importance of International Conferences and Business Events to Restarting City Economies revealed that while spending on business events plummeted by around 80% during lockdown (from 2019 figures), the long-term outlook suggests that by 2026, the conferencing sector will be worth £27.6bn, a 43% increase on 2019 figures. 

Attracting international delegates will be central to strengthening the future of the business events sector, with research indicating that international delegates will be worth six times their UK counterparts by 2026 (£1,078 for an international delegate and £180 for a domestic delegate). The recent launch of Scotland Is Now’s new campaign Scotland is Open feels like a pivotal moment in communicating the message that Scotland welcomes the world and that we’re focused on showcasing all of our assets, including our ability to stage some of the world’s most successful events. 

While the future looks bright for business tourism, we must remind ourselves that the sector has been one of the hardest hit by the pandemic and continues to face a number of immediate challenges. More support is needed to strengthen that outlook and accelerate recovery which is a key driver of the visitor economy, a vital sector on which so many businesses, particularly in our cities, depend upon. 

COP26 shone the light on Scotland as a conference destination and now is the time to build on success and capitalise on the enormous efforts that went into staging a historical and ground-breaking event with immense challenges leading up to those past two weeks we have seen. 

Scotland, with support from the Scottish Government and its agencies, must retain its international competitiveness and build on our reputation as a world-class destination for global events to support our economic eco-system and boost confidence within our domestic and international markets; we have one of the best and most welcoming meeting places in the world. 

This is what will stimulate sustainable recovery and put us back on the road to realising that all-important vision, that Scotland will be the world leaders in 21st- century tourism.

Marc Crothall is the chief executive of the Scottish Tourism Alliance.

Opinion feature source: Herald Scotland