Paul Bush OBE, Director of Events at VisitScotland looks back on some of the work delivered by VisitScotland’s Events Directorate, in collaboration with a range of partners to support the events industry and the safe return of events across the last twelve months.  

The move towards the end of the year prompts many of us to reflect, taking into consideration what’s been achieved both personally and professionally, and to also look forward.

There’s no denying the year didn’t unfold the way many of us had hoped for, with restrictions in place for longer than we’d anticipated, economic uncertainty, travel adaptations, and fluctuating COVID-19 figures globally. This was acutely felt by the events sector too, with enforced cancellation or postponement a reality for many, as well as financial, supply chain, employment and skill gaps challenges at the forefront.   

However, the climate of consistent uncertainty has once again accelerated a range of resilient responses, innovation, spirit and adaptation across the sector throughout 2021.    

Here at VisitScotland’s Events Directorate, we have continued to work in new and unfamiliar ways this year, collaborating with a range of partners to deliver a programme of activity designed to support the restart and recovery of the sector.   

Funding support 

Given the unprecedented nature and impact of COVID-19, and the need to ensure survival of the sector, the Scottish Government allocated £31.5million to support events businesses. This support was provided in direct response to the challenges highlighted by the industry and Scotland’s Event Industry Advisory Group (EIAG).  

This Scottish Government support provided a number of COVID-19 recovery programmes managed by VisitScotland Events Directorate which included Scotland’s Events Recovery Fund, Pivotal Event Businesses Fund, Events Industry Support Fund 1 & 2 including Top-up payments and Protection Level 1 & 2 Top-up payments.  

In addition to the COVID-19 recovery programmes, EventScotland continued to support events through its existing International programme (19 events) and through Scotland’s Winter Festivals Fund which supported 12 events across eight Local Authorities.

A voice for the sector   

Throughout 2021, Scotland’s Event Industry Advisory Group, led by Peter Duthie, Chief Executive of the SEC, continued to play a critically important role in advocating for the safe return of events, as well as reinforcing the importance of continued support for the sector.    

The diverse membership of the group enabled the views, challenges and expertise of our wide ranging, and far-reaching industry to be shared at Government level. The Group focused on a number of areas including COVID-19 vaccination certification, financial support, best practice, baseline mitigations and guidance, event insurance, Standard Industry Classification (SIC) codes, and workforce and supply chain challenges.  

In October 2021, in an effort to demonstrate the societal benefits of events, findings from a research project commissioned in collaboration with the EIAG and led by Bridget McConnell, CEO, Glasgow Life, were published. The project aimed to understand and examine how events do and can increasingly contribute to Scotland’s wellbeing. ‘The Contribution of Events to Scotland’s Wellbeing’ showed events can build healthier societies, connect communities, build local identity and pride. Going forward, the findings from this research and its recommendations will be used to develop the evidence base for measuring the contribution of events to the nation’s health and wellbeing.  

The Innovation & Good Practice workstream, led by Julia Amour, Director of Festivals Edinburgh, also successfully produced a number of industry webinars throughout 2021, ensuring that good practice was regularly shared across the sector.  

I’d like to express my personal thanks to all members of the EIAG and to Peter Duthie for his role as Chair. Their fortitude, knowledge and commitment has driven forward a range of critical areas of work this year. 

Digital in demand  

There is no doubt that event organisers and audiences were all anticipatedly waiting for the return of live events in 2021. However, with restrictions still in place for many events across the first half of the year, virtual and hybrid events still had a major role in attracting and engaging audiences. We also learned that adopting a virtual event strategy can produce a number of benefits including further reach and profile. Art, film, book and music festivals, Highland Games, and sport events continued to create innovative, virtual offerings that existing and new audiences could get excited about.  

Our own virtual replacement for VisitScotland Expo entitled Scotland Reconnect was also delivered digitally for a second time. Over 7,000 business meetings took place over the three-day event and almost 390 buyers from 26 countries connected with Scottish suppliers.  

More recently, the 8th Host City conference took place online from Glasgow bringing 85 incredible speakers to a global audience of more than 500 to “Refresh, Regenerate and Reconnect” the events industry.  

The return of live events  

The Scottish Government’s Gateway process enabled a number of internationally significant events to resume in 2021 under the Strategic Framework Protection Levels. These events helped demonstrate that Scotland was still functioning as a host for world class events and provided a critical platform for restarting the sector and emphasising the appetite for attendance at live events.   

Nine Gateway events were delivered in collaboration with a range of partners in 2021 including; UEFA Euro 2020 (Four fixtures and one round 16 match plus a Fan Zone), Glasgow, Royal Highland Showcase, Edinburgh, British and Irish Lions v Japan Test Match, Edinburgh, Abrdn Scottish Open, East Lothian, Edinburgh International Festival, Edinburgh Festival Fringe, Trust Golf Women’s Scottish Open, Fife, AIG Women’s Open, Angus and Cinch presents TRNSMT, Glasgow.

UK and international congresses also successfully took place in Scotland in September, including the British Society of Lifestyle Medicine and TED Countdown at the EICC, the British Orthopaedic Association at P&J Live, and SPIE Photonex at SEC.  

In addition, a number of events supported through Scotland’s Events Recovery Fund pivoted to live events, enabling both communities and visitors the chance to enjoy shared experiences as restrictions eased. Many of these events and others were successfully delivered under a new norm with COVID-19 passports, PCR and LFT tests and other mitigations such as face coverings all in place to minimise the spread of the virus while keeping our sector open and operating.  

Golf tees off in Scotland   

Scotland lived up to its reputation as the Home of Golf by hosting a range of events across both the men’s and women’s game in 2021.   

During the summer, EventScotland worked in collaboration with a range of partners including event organisers, the Scottish Government and local government to successfully stage the Abrdn Scottish Open at The Renaissance Club, North Berwick, Trust Golf Women’s Scottish Open at Dumbarnie Golf Links, and the AIG Women’s Open at Carnoustie Golf Links. Whilst the size and scale of each event differed, each event was delivered securely and safely in the context of COVID-19 restrictions.

Later in the year, the Hero Open was hosted at Fairmont St Andrews in August, the Scottish Senior Open took place at Royal Aberdeen in September, followed by The Alfred Dunhill Links Championship, which was staged across the Old Course St. Andrews, Carnoustie and Kingsbarns in early October.    

All eyes on Scotland   

As Business events go, there’s nothing quite like last month’s COP26 summit hosted at Glasgow’s Scottish Event Campus (SEC), the largest business event to have taken place in the UK. Heads of state gathered in Scotland, alongside climate experts, policy-makers, campaigners and accredited delegates to address the most critical issue of our time.  

The conference was a significant opportunity to showcase Scotland as a global leader in sustainability and inclusivity, and the role business events have in tackling the climate crisis through bringing people together to meet face to face. Working with a range of partners, our in-house VisitScotland Events & Exhibitions team ensured Scotland’s Climate Ambition Zone at The Lighthouse in Glasgow was central in driving forward global climate action with a distinctive Scottish programme of 60 events attended by in-person and virtual audiences. 

Long before COVID-19 brought the events industry to a standstill, VisitScotland started to look in greater detail at the impact business events have on local and global communities. As well as bringing beneficial change for communities and being catalysts for new ideas, business events were identified as having a significant impact on delegates and destinations. In March this year, VisitScotland Business Events brought this to the forefront with the launch of its Journey to Change campaign, which showcases how business events can drive social and economic transformation.

Year of Coasts and Waters flows into 2021   

Given the impact of COVID-19, an exception was made in 2021 with the Year of Coasts and Waters 2020 rolling forward. There was overwhelming support from partners for the Themed Year to continue into 2021 and almost all of the events that were rolled over presented themselves in an adapted form, highlighting the resilience and adaptability of the events sector in the face or extreme challenges.  

Despite the challenges 2021 presented, Scotland’s waters, rivers and seas continued to flow, inspiring creativity, wellness, and both virtual and live opportunities to engage. A total of 33 events across 30 Local Authorities were supported through the £770k Scotland’s Year of Coasts and Waters 20/21 Open Events Fund and 38 Partner events celebrated the year.   

UNBOXED  

In October, Scotland’s contribution to UNBOXED – a once-in-a-lifetime celebration of creativity taking place across the UK in 2022 was announced. Commissioned by EventScotland and funded via the Scottish Government, Scotland’s contribution entitled Dandelion will demonstrate the power of collective action in a Scotland-wide ‘grow your own’ initiative. Rooted in Scotland, with an international outlook and sustainability at its heart, Dandelion follows the arc of the growing season, from April to September 2022, and will reimagine the cultural celebration of harvest for the 21st century, led by the next generations of producers, musicians and growers.  

I believe the exciting plans for Dandelion, and the wider UNBOXED programme are a wonderful example of how innovation and creativity can truly flourish when individuals combine their knowledge, expertise, and perspectives, and are given the opportunity to imagine events in bold and ambitious ways. With five other commissions set to take place in Scotland next year, it’s set to provide many inspiring moments for us all to share across 2022.  

2023 UCI Cycling World Championships  

As Chair of the 2023 UCI Cycling Worlds, I was delighted to see the ambitious brand identity revealed in March this year as well as the ‘Two years to go’ milestone celebrated in August 2021 with the unveiling of the first of the venues set to be part of the Championships. Five renowned Glasgow venues were confirmed to host what promises to be a spectacular event which will unite the world in a celebration of cycling and the ‘power of the bike’. In addition, Dumfries & Galloway will further etch its place in cycling history by welcoming the world’s best Para-cyclists after it was named as the host region for the historic Para-cycling Road at the Championships.  

Five-time UCI BMX and Track Cycling World Champion, Shanaze Reade was also announced as the first in a series of ambassadors who will help drive forward the key policy drivers for the event in June.  

The Championships also underlined its ambition to be a leader in environmental innovation and sustainable development in sport by becoming a signatory of the United Nations Sports for Climate Change Action Framework. 

Looking ahead to the future   

Next year, we have the strongest portfolio of golf events Scotland has ever staged in history, with five major golf tournaments in 2022 over a six week period through July and August, including the 150th staging of The Open Championship at St Andrews and a first visit of the AIG Women’s Open to Muirfield in East Lothian.   

We will also celebrate Scotland’s Year of Stories 2022 which recently launched a nationwide programme of more than 60 events, presented by a range of partners from national organisations to community groups.   

Dynamic New Athletics Indoor (DNA), a new mixed-gender, fast-paced, short and compact team athletics event, will take place at the Emirates Arena in Glasgow in February and the SUV electric motor racing series Extreme E is proposed to take place in the Outer Hebrides.  After a two-year hiatus, eight VisitScotland Bid Fund supported events will take place next year including the Royal College of Ophthalmologists Annual Conference and The World Congress of Soil Science 2022.   

Moving into 2023, Scotland will host the UCI Cycling World Championships and in 2024 Glasgow will welcome the World Athletics Indoor Championships, a recent win for Scotland (December 2021) and a fantastic power of partnerships outcome. Scotland will also jointly host the 2030 ICC Men’s T20 World Cup with England and Ireland following a competitive bidding process run by the ICC.  

Few industries have the impact that events do, not just on the economy but on health and wellbeing, national morale and the ability to bring people and communities together. As we move closer to 2022, the recent twists and turns of the pandemic force us all to remain vigilant as we continue to plot our way out of an uncertain pandemic and rebuild the events industry globally.   

What is certain, however, is how far we have come throughout 2021 and that Scotland’s outlook and position as the perfect stage for events will be further strengthened with a range of new and returning events set to take place across 2022 and beyond. 

As I pay my own personal thanks to the many partners we have collectively worked with in 2021, I’d also like to take this opportunity to wish you a happy festive season.

Source: EventScotland LinkedIn

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