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August 22, 2010

Is the UK joining Brazil and China in recognising the economic significance of meetings?

In the wake of the bashing of the meetings and events industry on both sides of the Atlantic last year, could there be signs that the British Government is starting to open its eyes to real potential of the sector?

It’s probably too early to say, but recent signs from both the words and actions of UK Prime Minister David Cameron are encouraging.

In a recent a speech, he referred to the challenges and opportunities that tourism presents for the UK and its fundamental role in the rebuilding and rebalancing of the economy. What’s more, the importance of face-to-face communication is clearly not lost on him, as events industry association Eventia’s chairman Mark Saxby points out.

“His ‘Meet the PM’ series of regional events very much put him at the forefront as an exponent of audience engagement,” he says. “Given that he has not shied away from difficult questions, occasionally to his detriment, he has also learned the true potency of this live medium.”

Saxby also believes Cameron appreciates the potential of the internet to spread the reach of events and get the maximum value from them.

“By providing access to the media and creating a link to the 10, Downing Street [the UK Prime Minister’s official residence] website, he has certainly managed to reach an audience significantly greater than those present at the live event, and in doing so is leveraging further his return on investment,” he says.

Saxby hopes that the UK Government bears this in mind when it seeks to cut government departmental expenditure on activities such as events, and take considerable resource out of organisations, such as the Central Office of Information, with a consequent knock-on effect in terms of jobs among all those event agencies and companies in the supply chain.

“As the Prime Minister recognises, live events have a vital role to play in the communications mix and this must continue to be embraced by his government,” says Saxby.

“If the UK Government is to make what are going to be very painful cuts, it must remember, more than ever, the need for live events to engage with the public along the way.”

Michael Hirst, chairman of the UK’s Business Visits and Events Partnership, is also cautiously optimistic about government support for corporate meetings and events, following Cameron’s comments about the importance of tourism.

“The PM’s speech, which I was very pleased to be present at, was a huge endorsement of the entire tourism industry,” says Hirst. “It shows that the UK Government, at the most senior level, now understands the vital contribution we make, but more crucially the greater role we are able to play in the future in delivering the long term objectives of the country.

“While major sporting events, such as the Olympic Games, all help in attracting international audiences and generate enormous media coverage, we see an equal opportunity for Britain in recognising and supporting the important area of business events, conferences, exhibitions and trade fairs,” he continues.

“These not only attract international business visitors on a daily basis, but they also create a global showcase for Britain’s expertise, its industrial and commercial capabilities and skills, boosting trade potential and communicating our excellence in research, education and development. All of which are key elements of the Prime Minster’s overall objective.”

The organisation representing the world’s foremost private-sector travel and tourism businesses, the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC), also welcomes Cameron's comments.

“We are delighted that in challenging economic times, the UK Government has recognised the importance of travel and tourism, which can be one of the best and fastest ways of returning back growth, prosperity, and increasing jobs. This announcement comes at the right moment for the UK to take full advantage of its Olympic opportunity in 2012," says WTTC president and chief executive Jean-Claude Baumgarten.

“WTTC would be happy to represent the private sector in contributing to the development of the strategy, and we hope that more countries around the world will give the industry the value of recognition it deserves.”

Hirst, meanwhile, has expressed his views to Cameron in a recent letter. Let’s hope the UK Prime Minister takes the comments on board to the benefit of not just the meetings and events industry, but also the UK economy. Meanwhile, the WTTC believes the UK has joined Brazil and China in recognising the economic and political significance of the tourism and meetings industry. All eyes will now be on the UK Government to see if it can prove the WTTC right.

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