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April 2, 2009

SUMMING UP THE SUMMIT:The event that was good for London and the world

Although some jumped on the anti-meetings and events bandwagon, the gathering of world leaders at ExCeL London recently was generally viewed as a monumentous event.

The G20 Summit at ExCeL London drew the eyes of the world to the capital and the country as a whole. Leaders from across the globe sat together to try to breathe life back into the world economy and create a new capitalism.

Just as Gordon Brown and Barack Obama seemed to have everyone on the brink of a groundbreaking agreement, Nicolas Sarkozy and Angela Merkel re-opened key arguments, with the German leader describing the meeting as “an historic opportunity to give capitalism a conscience”.

Meanwhile, outside ExCeL, protestors expressed their anger at the fact that the credit crunch had been allowed to happen in the first place.

Major impact
Would this really have had the same impact if the meeting had been carried out using videoconferencing, as Simon Jenkins suggested in his article in the London Evening Standard newspaper? Certainly not according to Eventia chief executive Izania Downie, or Visit London’s commercial director David Hornby.

“Such technology extends the meetings spectrum and contributes to bringing more businesspeople together,” says Downie. “But for key meetings where major debates take place and groundbreaking decisions are made, people need face-to-face interaction, where no one can hide from the issues.”

Hornby agrees, adding: “This isn't a beauty pageant. It's a meeting of powerful men and women discussing important issues. Did Mr Jenkins consider this and did he consider the actual subject of this G20 Summit, which is growth, stability and jobs?”

Overly dramatic
In his article, Jenkins paints a picture of ferocious “obscene” overspending, saying the G Summits have spiralled out of control, growing from G5 to G20 – a reference to the number of countries represented. He says the events have “more in common with a medieval orgy than modern democracy”.

But surely that fact that more countries are involved and keen to address global issues should be a cause for celebration.

Jenkins also suggests that it would be better to hold the event in central London rather than in Docklands, which he describes as a “suburban goods yard”, while referring to ExCeL as “inaccessible”.

“Simon Jenkins paints an overly dramatic and rather misleading picture and not one that is shared by Visit London or the tens of thousands of repeat business and trade visitors to ExCeL London each year,” says Hornby.
“His description of walking out into Canning Town is not relevant, as visitors to ExCeL London don't need to set foot outside of Canning Town Station on their way to the venue, but simply change platforms, which is usually clearly marked by helpful hosts on busy event days.
World class
“But let's not get bogged down with tiny details,” Hornby continues. “Let's start with the cold, hard facts. ExCeL London is the only venue in London that was large enough and capable of hosting the Summit.

“Second, ExCeL London is a world-class international conference and exhibition centre, which has been host to some of Europe and the UK’s largest and most high-profile conferences and events. It has a fantastic reputation for delivering events of this calibre and has the kind of service delivery that makes London stand out as a city, and which has helped it win ‘Best City to do Business in’ for last 18 years!”

A great example
Hornby is also keen to get across the contribution that ExCeL is making to the regeneration of Docklands and London as a whole.

“ExCeL is spending £165 million on an expansion project and will be supporting 38,000 jobs by 2011, which has a £1.6 billion impact for London,” he explains.

ExCeL is actually one of the largest regeneration projects in Europe. Its relationship with the London Development Authority is also a great example of a private/public partnership.

“Surely this is a key message to be presenting to the world, rather than just shallow aesthetic pleasure,” says Hornby. “The powerful lasting message that the world should take from the London G20 is: ‘This is the place to watch!’”

Staying positive
If anything, Jenkins remarks have galvanised support for the G20 Summit, Docklands and events overall. In fact, Downie’s reply to Jenkin’s Evening Standard diatribe, which ran as an opinion article on MEETINGS:review last week, attracted positive comments from both within and outside the UK.

One such response from Karen Jessen, a director at Cititravel DMC in Spain, sums up the kind of attitude that’s needed not only to see the events industry through the recession, but also to solve global issues – and stands in stark contrast to Jenkins’ negative reactionary stance.

“This is exactly what the industry needs,” she says. “Positive people with the right view on the meetings and events industry.”

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