A new platform for the global business events industry was created in Scotland on Wednesday with the launch of the first-ever ‘Business Events Leaders’ Summit’.

More than 120 of the world’s foremost experts in the MICE (Meetings, Exhibitions, Incentives & Conferences) industry gathered at the inaugural event in Glasgow to share the latest academic research, network and discuss how to put the sector at the heart of economic development planning.

Two leading academics from Australia – whose research helped ‘seal the deal’ on policy-makers’ decision to build the new $1.5bn ICC convention centre in Sydney – delivered the keynote speech on their seminal research which has influenced the national conversation on the ‘hidden value’ of business events.

Professors Carmel Foley and Deborah Edwards, from the University of Technology Sydney, showcased work they have done on the ‘long-tail’ benefits of business events, which has been at the centre of efforts by Business Events Sydney to move the sector ‘upstream’ in regional and national policy-making circles. A long-term benefit of hosting a business event might include a new breakthrough in medical research or the development of a new knowledge economy, 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.

The professors – whose book The Power of Conferences: Stories of serendipity, innovation and driving social change was published last year – have also collaborated with the Joint Meetings Industry Council (JMIC) on the Event Case Study Program, an international project that is redefining the value proposition of the global business events industry and is being cited as a model for other destinations around the world to follow.

They were joined at the Scottish Event Campus by Jeannie Lim, who has led the Conventions, Meetings & Incentive Travel division of the Singapore Exhibition and Convention Bureau, a group under the Singapore Tourism Board, since 2011, and has played a key part in building Singapore’s reputation as a global meetings hub for key knowledge sectors.

Peter Duthie, Chief Executive of the Scottish Event Campus, who welcomed delegates to the city for the conference, said: “Business events have a key role in the internationalisation of cities, driving inward investment and stimulating key business sectors. We’re fortunate to operate in a city – and indeed a country – that ‘gets’ business events. The ‘Team Glasgow’ approach, where all stakeholders work together underpins securing and delivering great events. Our ambition is to take this to the next level.”

The event, Chaired by BBC Journalist and Broadcaster Mark Stephen, was sponsored by VisitBritain and featured a stellar cast of global MICE practitioners, including:

Lesley Williams, Director, Market Development, at BestCities Global Alliance, which represents 12 global cities – including Edinburgh – which are at the forefront of destination marketing for business events.

Martin Sirk, CEO of the International Congress and Convention Association (ICCA), which has led the way on campaigning for recognition of business events as a catalyst for societal progress and economic development.

Sam Johnston, Manager of Dublin Convention Bureau, which has worked to stimulate world-leading tech sector events in the Silicon Docks area of the city.

Ian Hyland, President Business & Finance Media + Founder Dublin Tech Summit, Europe’s fastest-growing tech business event with more than 10,000 attendees over two days and 264 speakers.

John Sharkey, Executive Vice President for Europe for SMG, the global venue operator which will spearhead efforts of the new £333m AECC in Aberdeen to position the facility as a knowledge hub for business events in key economic sectors for the North East of Scotland.

Neil Brownlee, Head of Business Events at VisitScotland, which has launched the two-year digital marketing campaign Legends, which seeks to position Scotland as a business events destination with global expertise in innovation, technology and sciences.

Paul McCAfferty, Head of Tourism, Scottish Enterprise, who has been instrumental in working with VisitScotland, regional convention bureaux and venues on the Cities & Centres steering group to develop business events as an economic development concern.

Carina Bauer, CEO of IMEX Group, the global trading platform for the MICE industry, which delivers shows in Frankfurt and Las Vegas and whose Policy Forum has recently shifted focus to include policy-makers and government influencers as well as politicians. The forum is moving closer towards the city development and destination development agenda.

Tracy Halliwell MBE, Director of Business Tourism and Major Events at London & Partners, which has co-located staff from the capital’s economic development agency, business chambers and convention bureau, an initiative which has helped deliver successful events such as London Tech Week.

Kerrin MacPhie, Head of Business Events, VisitBritain, which is working to reinforce partnerships across government and help position Britain as a knowledge hub for key sectors for hosting business events.

After a networking lunch and an afternoon plenary which focused on how Scotland is aligning its own business events industry closer to economic sectors, delegates broke into groups to take part in ‘Strategy Sessions’ to discuss how to develop the nation’s principal meetings hubs: Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen & Dundee and their wider regions.

The outcomes from those sessions will be published by EventsBase in its next print issue, which comes out in June, as well as online; the detail will also be available to delegates to use as a springboard for discussion with regional and national industry stakeholders ahead of 2019’s Summit.

The event also left a public legacy as it was featured on the Good Morning Scotland radio programme, which airs to 800,000 listeners in Scotland; Professors Deborah Edwards and Carmel Foley were interviewed by BBC reporter Laura Maciver in a broadcast which went out on Wednesday morning. The four-minute clip is available here (iPlayer sign in required) at 2:51:54 into the programme.

As well as being a forum to discuss how to develop the business events industry, the event also featured a pledge by the national economic development agency, Scottish Enterprise and VisitScotland to further the business events agenda at a policy level.

Neil Brownlee, Head of Business Events at VisitScotland, said: “This was an excellent platform on which to place Business Events at a level not previously seen in Scotland. It was revealing to hear from our illustrious colleagues from Australia, Ireland and Singapore of their similar journeys in recognising business events as being ‘beyond the visitor economy’.  We heard strong and encouraging endorsement that Scotland and our cities are at the front of the curve globally, and have the correct directon of travel.  We must seize the momentum from this Summit and move quickly to capitalise on this wider understanding that was so articulately expressed.”

Paul McCafferty said Scottish Enterprise was making good ‘progress’ on widening the influence of business events at a senior level in the organisation and among its own sector teams; he presented a series of recommendations to the audience, which will inform and influence how SE supports the industry.

The five recommendations were as follows:

1. Placing stronger emphasis on the business events sector as a sector development tool

2. Continuation of a National Conference Bid Fund to attract new, larger scale and higher value activity;

3. Support for investment in existing venues of strategic importance in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen;

4. Support for the development of new venues that meet wider strategic investment opportunities, such as the potential for a new venue in Dundee;

5. Support and promote investment in technology, infrastructure and innovation.

To follow the content from #BELS18 please remain subscribed to our weekly newsletter or follow us on Twitter and LinkedIn (and the editor, here.)