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April 16, 2008

Is government policy damaging £22 billion business tourism market?

A top-level breakfast presentation and discussion on business tourism, hosted recently by events association Eventia, united the meetings and events industry’s most influential organisations during the first ever British Tourism Week.

The theme from speakers was consistent: government policy is holding them back.

Held at the Riverbank Park Plaza, the breakfast event highlighted the importance of meetings and events to the UK tourism industry, with a primary focus on how it sustains and supports Britain’s business community.

One of the speakers, Business Tourism Partnership (BTP) chairman Michael Hirst OBE, cited the sector to be worth £22 billion to the UK economy – around 26% of total tourism revenues – and has grown by 53% in the past decade, much faster growth than tourism overall. In fact, said the Tourism Alliance’s Kurt Janson, without the meetings and event business, tourism into the UK would have declined in that period.

“We are asking for greater support from government” concluded Hirst. “If it can happen for sports events such as the Olympics, why can’t it happen for business events? We should see ministers attending overseas trade presentations to attract business events as they do in other countries.”

A sad indictment of the Government's seeming ambivalence to business tourism and the events industry, was the fact that an MP due to attend the breakfast never appeared. This did not dampen the enthusiam of those present for a debate, however.

This kind of attitude from government does beg the question whether lobbying is worth it, and couldn't the time, money and effort that associations like Eventia and the AEO are putting into it be better spent on marketing campaigns promoting the industry to marketers and key corporate decision makers. After all, not only is the events industry generating money for the exchequer, but it's also helping companies market themselves better, and therefore making them more successful.

Look out for interviews on EVENTS:review later this month with Michael Hirst and Eventia chairman Nigel Cooper tackling some of the issues mentioned in this article, and recorded at the Business Tourism Breakfast.

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