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March 29, 2009

Izania Downie:Why Simon Jenkins got it wrong about the G20 Summit

The chief executive of Eventia hits back against London Evening Standard journalist Simon Jenkin’s disparaging article about the meeting of world leaders due to take place at ExCeL London this week.

This week sees a major global conference come to the UK – the G20 Summit. It’s a real coup for Britain, London and ExCeL where it will be held.

It is arguably one of 2009’s most important events, where leaders from the world’s major nations get together to discuss the global financial crisis. It will also place London and the UK in the spotlight as an important events destination, showcasing the facilities on offer at a time when the industry needs it most.

So I was truly amazed to read a full-page opinion piece in the Evening Standard last week by one of the newspaper’s leading columnists, Simon Jenkins, writing the whole event off as a complete waste of time.

Jenkins disappointingly seems to have simply jumped on the anti-meetings bandwagon, but in doing so has also tried to shoot down some fabulous initiatives that will help not only the UK, but also the world.

Hot air
First he calls the G20 Summit the “festival of hot air”. If this is the case, perhaps he should go along himself, as he appears full of the stuff.

Of course, the truth is that any event that can bring the world’s leaders together to discuss how to solve crises facing the planet has got to be a good thing.

As to the expense, which Jenkins questions, this is bringing revenue to the venue, its staff, support services and one of the poorer parts of London, which such events and venues like ExCeL are helping to rejuvenate. I can also find few better causes to spend the money on.

Jenkins also talks of “Olympic extravagance”, even managing to have go at the 2012 Games. It is such “extravagance” that stands to generate considerable wealth for the UK economy and a lasting legacy that will stretch well beyond the London Olympics.

Maximum engagement
“The internet and the conference call were supposed to render such gatherings obsolete,” says Jenkins of the G20 Summit. If that was the case then why is it taking place? Instead, such technology extends the meetings spectrum and contributes to bringing more businesspeople together. 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.

At last week’s Institute of Travel Management conference in Liverpool, former Mayor of London Ken Livingstone supported this point, saying that he’d tried meeting online while in office, but found engaging with people face-to-face achieved a higher quality of feedback and communication.

From an economic perspective, it’s also important to continue to encourage global travel, albeit within responsible social, financial and environmental parameters, as it generates valuable revenue through tourism. This is a point that was made in a White House statement issued on 12 March 2009, which read: "The president believes it's important to have a strong tourism industry and…we shouldn't retrench. He would encourage people to travel."

Major investment
Finally, Jenkins’ poisoned pen puts the boot into Docklands, suggesting the location will reflect badly on London, ignoring the fact that the area is an example of the massive investment and rejuvenation that will take place in the run-up to the Olympics. Jenkins also questions the venue, forgetting that ExCeL’s new owners are investing heavily to develop it further and improve London’s events facilities.

Why does Jenkins take such a negative stance over something so positive for London, the UK and the world? And why does the Evening Standard stoop so low as to print it?

Yes, the G20 may attract protestors, but they have their right to protest – unless of course this is something else Jenkins would like to take away from us…

Izania Downie is the chief executive of events industry association Eventia

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