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April 16, 2008

Business tourism leaders lobby tourism minister Hodge

A delegation from the Business Tourism Partnership, including representatives from Eventia, the Events Industry Alliance (EIA), the MIA (Meetings Industry Association) and VisitBritain, met Margaret Hodge MP, Minister for Tourism last week, and Brian Leonard, Director, Industry, Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), to heighten government awareness of the value of the events industry to the UK economy and to seek the Minister’s support in promoting the sector.

The meeting followed the announcement by The Department for Culture, Media and Sport on 24 October that the national tourism agency, VisitBritian, was to have its funding cut over a three-year period. The agency’s funding level will be £47.6 million in 2008/09, £45.1 million in 2009/10 and £40.6 million in 2010/11. This compares with the current grant of £49.6 million.

Among the issues raised at the meeting was a further plea for ministerial support for bids to host major international events. Here the Minister offered to assist at 20 events each year. The punitive cost of visas for entry into the UK was cited as a barrier to business visitors and the Minister promised that further discussion would be undertaken with UK Visas regarding difficulties for group business travellers. The Minister also pledged her support for more streamlined and uniform health and safety regulations at event venues. She added that there would be scope for research on the economic impact of the industry.

The Business Tourism Partnership representatives reminded the Minister that one of the key tenets of the recently launched DCMS tourism strategy for 2012 and beyond, was to maximise opportunities for increasing business visits and events, with the aim of making the UK the leading country in the world for holding business events and conferences.

A presentation made by Eventia executive director Izania Downie, and Eventia board member Mark Taylor of the Grass Roots Group, highlighted the conference, incentive travel and corporate hospitality opportunities that would be created by the Games.

Downie said: “It is envisaged that 50-70% of the net economic benefits from the Olympics will accrue to tourism and 67% of the economic benefit is expected to be delivered from the ‘halo effect’ during the five years following the Games. Business tourism will to contribute a significant amount of this benefit. It’s so important that the DCMS takes this on board and helps us to maximise the opportunities that the Games present – and I think this meeting has really gone a long way in raising awareness.”

Trevor Foley, group chief executive of the EIA, illustrated the growth of events as a preferred media of communication and their role within creative enterprise.

Commenting on the meeting, Foley said: "This meeting was truly constructive. To have had the opportunity to make a 10-minute presentation on the position of events with the media landscape was fantastic. The Minister was clearly engaged, made some impressive promises and it was great to hear Brian Leonard say that we had succeeded, in recent meetings, to deliver to DCMS, a clear understanding of the significance of the events industry.

"EIA, Eventia and Business Tourism Partnership chairman Michael Hirst, are determined to 'keep the foot on the gas' to ensure that the DCMS delivers on its promises."

Meanwhile, Hirst commented: "We are gradually succeeding in developing a greater understanding of the business events sector. The Minister told us that government intends to punch harder to support us. However, the cuts in VisitBritain funding will do little to achieve the strategic aim to reinforce Britain’s reputation as a world-class destination for business visits and events.”

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