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July 13, 2009

GREAT SCOT:Edinburgh puts itself firmly on the global meetings and events map

Rising rapidly up the ICCA’s global conference city rankings, Edinburgh is carving a niche for itself as a key location for association conferences and other events. Ian Whiteling investigates why the Scottish city seems so resilient to the recession.

From the ICCA’s latest ranking of international conference destinations, arguably one of the most interesting statistics relates to a city not only outside the top 10, but even beyond the leading 20.

Nestling in the 28th slot, it is easy to miss Edinburgh. Yet those organisers and delegates who have held events in the Scottish city will only be too familiar with the excellent facilities it offers – not to mention the hard work the destination is doing to attract businesses and associations through the Edinburgh Convention Bureau (ECB).

The high level of dedication shown by the ECB saw the city rise eight places in the rankings compared with last year.

Winning ways
Despite the downturn, missives have been dispatched from the ECB proclaiming conference wins on an almost monthly basis since the start of the year. The latest, received at the end of June, proclaims Edinburgh has been chosen to play host to 30 new events, which should give the local economy a welcome £6 million boost, with the new conference wins will bring 5,200 high-spending delegates to the city.

Eight of the meetings, confirmed between 11 May and 16 June, are associated with medicine, underlining Edinburgh’s world-class reputation as a centre of excellence in this field. One of the largest of the new events is the Vascular Surgical Society 2011 meeting, which will be attended by 800 delegates over four days at the Edinburgh International Conference Centre (EICC). It is anticipated that the event will inject £1,475,000 into the local economy.

The events, which range in duration from one to four days between 2009 and 2011, involve international and national associations, government departments and corporate bodies. Meanwhile, the ECB is proud in proclaiming Edinburgh as the leading UK conference destination after London.

Raising the profile

Welcoming the latest boost to the city’s business tourism, ECB chief executive Sue Stuart, says: “Edinburgh continues to demonstrate the attraction of its environment, culture, history and excellence as a centre of world class research and development in winning conferences.

“Business tourism is vitally important in declaring to the world that Edinburgh is most definitely open for business, despite the incredibly tough economic climate.”

Stuart is also raising the international profile of Edinburgh in her recently appointed position as chair of the BestCities Global Alliance. The ECB is a founding member of the Alliance, which includes Cape Town, Copenhagen, Dubai, Edinburgh, Melbourne, San Juan, Singapore, Vancouver.

Improving standards
BestCities is the world’s first and only convention bureau alliance, and since its establishment in 2000, it has developed many innovative and effective initiatives as a group. These range from designing the world’s only set of professional service standards for convention bureaus, to staging collaborative client programmes and the ongoing development of best practices.

“The Alliance’s focus is on enhancement of the meeting planner's experience,” says Stuart. “Our first step was to develop the BestCities Quality Management System (QMS). Then, in 2008, the Alliance partners underwent a rigorous audit process culminating in certification by Lloyd’s Register Quality Assurance (LRQA) that the service standards are being met in each of the eight cities.

”We’re not just talking about improving service standards,” she stresses, “we are doing it. When we say our bureaus offer the best client service experience, our claim is being backed up by LRQA.”

Value driven
The ECB knows the value of attracting events to Edinburgh, with recent research indicating that business visitors to the city spend an average of £364 a day during their stay – that’s and incredible 80% more than leisure visitors! Recognition of this means that Stuart is determined to take advantage of euro/sterling exchange rate shift that has occurred as a result of the downturn.

“The current economic situation and the consequent exchange rate do present opportunities and we intend to pursue them vigorously for the benefit of the city and surrounding region,” she says.

Associations are particularly important to Edinburgh, with around 75% of conferences held in the city focusing on this sector. A key driver of association events to Edinburgh is the ECB’s Edinburgh Ambassadors Programme.

This initiative matches recognised leaders in the city’s many areas of academic and commercial excellence with the professional marketing support of ECB staff, who together work as a team to help them bring their international association’s conference to Edinburgh. Since 1996, the programme has helped attract more than 210 major events, worth almost £100 million, to the city.

Fast forward
Business tourism is now worth £300 million a year to Edinburgh, and its rising status as an events destination is only likely to increase this figure. Meanwhile, the fact that this figure has been maintained over the last couple of years shows the city’s resilience in the face of tough economic circumstances.

Furthermore, the ECB’s role in this cannot be underestimated, with the organisation bringing in £700,000 for events business into the Scottish capital during 2008/9 than it did the previous year. And with forward bookings stretching until 2014, it’s probably safe to say that the ECB is anticipating a further rise up the ICCA’s global conference destination rankings.

A selection of the major events in Edinburgh’s diary:

– International society of Developmental  Biology, 7-11 Sept (1,000 delegates)
– Royal College of Nursing AGM, 28-29 Oct (700 delegates)
– British  Medical Ultrasound Society, 5-8 Dec (1,000 delegates)

– Centenary of the Edinburgh 1910 World Missionary Conference, 2-6 June (1,100
– Federated Logic Conference, 9-21 July (1,000 delegates)
– World Youth Climbing Championships, 6-10 Sept (700 attendees)
– International conference on systems Biology, 10-16 Oct (1,000 delegates)

– World Association of  Girl Guides and Girl Scouts, 31 July 31 to 5 Aug (650

– Congress of the European  Society of Gastrointestinal & Abdominal Radiology,
11-15 June (1,200 delegates)
– European Society of Neuro Radiology 2012, 2-7 Sept (1,000 delegates)

– International Conference on Mercury as a Global Pollutant, 2-7 June (1,200

– Ryder Cup (accommodation) being played at Gleneagles hotel, 10-14 Sept
(2,000 attendees for whom accommodation will be in Edinburgh)

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