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August 13, 2009

Joss Croft:Keep Britain Talking Now

The head of business visits and events at UK marketing body VisitBritain underlines the importance of the upcoming rebranded National Meetings Week, while emphasising the fact that opportunities still exist for companies, despite the bleak economic conditions.

For any business working within meetings and events, 2009 already represents one of the most hostile economic environments this industry has faced for 20 years. However, as we enter one of the toughest climates to date; we also enter a period of opportunity.

Sterling’s relative fall in value against the dollar and euro has made the UK instantly more desirable for inbound international tourism and for the domestic pound to stay in the UK.

One of the key mouthpieces for the UK meetings industry is National Meetings Week, a VisitBritain-led campaign and one that has steadily grown into one of the clearest examples of the UK meetings industry promoting itself. This year, we changed the nature and branding of the campaign to Keep Britain Talking, reflecting a harder-nosed initiative running throughout the year.

We also expanded the campaign brief to encompass governmental lobbying, regional media, and national business media targeting. Now the focus of the campaign closer reflects the tough business environment out there, and is based on three simple messages: buy meetings, buy British and Britain means value.

Keep Britain Talking in the Regions
One of the key reasons VisitBritain is so well placed to lead the Keep Britain Talking campaign is our close working relationships with regional tourism organisations across the country, interested in promoting their region. The role of such organisations is critical to this year’s campaign, as we look to mirror our national activity into every corner of the UK. 

Already we have achieved significant success in this area, with Nottingham forming a destination consortium, including Nottingham Conferences, Experience Nottinghamshire, Nottingham Arena and the Nottingham Hoteliers Association. These organisations have worked together to form Keep Nottingham Talking. Within the campaign there is a buyer/supplier event to promote the meetings industry, supported by local government lobbying and a media relations campaign.

Similarly in Scotland, Macdonald Hotels and Resorts has joined forces with the SECC to create Keep Scotland Talking. Again, the campaign will be implemented through the Macdonald Hotels and Resorts, as well as at the SECC, and supported by a national and regional media relations campaign to talk to Scottish buyers.

Visit London is also supporting the campaign in style, with a London bus leaving the capital on a tour en route to Event UK in Birmingham. This will be supported by activity from other campaign supporters, including ExCeL London, Church House Conference Centre and Sodexo Prestige.

Keep Britain Talking Meetings
Perhaps the most significant event taking place during the campaign week is the Association Summit, another clear example of the industry joining forces. The meetings and events industry associations have all been working hard this year to help their members through this difficult trading period and are proactive and welcome supporters of Keep Britain Talking. Through their membership databases, the campaign messages are going direct to buyers of meetings across the UK.

On top of the events taking place in the regional campaigns are a series of other meetings to promote the campaign. Sodexo Prestige for example is hosting a series of promotional events in its venues across the country, from HMS Belfast in London, Blenheim Palace in Oxford, and Hampden Park in Scotland. Again, these events offer great media and direct communication opportunities for the campaign.

Keep Britain Talking to Government
Given the significance of the Keep America Meeting campaign, spurred as a reaction to the Troubled Asset Relief Programme restrictions that throttled the meetings and events industry in the US, one of the most important facets of this year’s campaign has been our communication to government.

VisitBritain is ideally placed to take on this role on behalf of the industry, and the Keep Britain Talking campaign has given us the ideal communication tactic with which to do so. By highlighting the potential damage government can do to the business tourism industry, we have been able to have clearer and more constructive dialogue with the key governmental departments concerned with the meetings and events industry, from the Home Office, Foreign Office, HM Revenue and Customs and the Department of Culture, Media and Sport.

This has been combined with our annual outreach campaign to MPs across the country to petition their support for the campaign and again, we have had an encouraging response, allowing the campaign to leverage more local and national awareness.

Keep Britain Talking
The Keep Britain Talking campaign will reach its key focal point in the next few months with the traditional campaign week  (21-27 September) coinciding with Event UK (22-23 September).

Our ambition is that the momentum we have built up over the last six months will keep meetings and events on a positive agenda into 2010, where once again the campaign will commence. In the meantime, the work of VisitBritain and this industry’s association will continue with the goal of steering the meetings and events market through the current environment and into a stronger position in 2010.

Joss Croft is head of business visits and events at VisitBritain

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