As we look to the future post-pandemic, Dundee & Angus Convention Bureau’s Karen Tocher explores the value of business events.
There’s no denying the negative impact Covid-19 has had on the business events sector. Lockdowns, social distancing, and travel restrictions all hit hard at the heart of an industry that traditionally relies on face-to-face connections, international travel, and social spaces.
But along with every other aspect of society, the business events industry has adapted, embracing digital technology to deliver virtual events while the world awaited its return to a more physical reality. And while hybrid meetings and conferences will undoubtedly continue as we move forward into a ‘brave, new world’, the appetite for physical events has finally returned.
So, with our focus now firmly on life post-pandemic, the value of business events is again coming to the fore, with the sector set to play a key role not only on the global stage but also in helping to ‘restart’ local and regional economies.
Considered more of a traditional value, the economic benefits for a city or region hosting business events and conferences are significant for the local resources, facilities, skills, and expertise required to host and deliver a successful event.
In a recent report commissioned by Cities Restart, international conferences and businesses in the UK could be worth £27.6 billion by 2026; that’s an anticipated increase of 43% on 2019, just as the pandemic took hold.
Just as interesting is the forecast value per delegate. The Cities Restart report indicates that international delegates will be worth £1,078 per head, some six times more than domestic delegates by 2026.
The value of this per head spend on the local economy should not be underestimated, not least for the hotel and hospitality industry, local transport, cultural venues, attractions, and high street retail.
And, as the world’s airports and travel routes return to capacity, post-pandemic, the increased international delegate footfall to a renowned conference destination such as Dundee, Angus, Fife and Perthshire region will also bring a direct economic impact for the region’s tourism industry.
Boost for local communities
As the immediate income from business events filters down into the local economy, the longer-term impact is the boost for a region’s local communities, including employment, job creation and skills development. Business events can also have ‘downstream’ benefits for associated industries in the area.
A 2018 study by the Events Industry Council discovered that global business events had directly generated over 10.3 million jobs, while the sector directly and indirectly supported more than 25 million jobs.
Bringing this down to a UK perspective, in 2019 the events industry provided an estimated 700,000 jobs. While this figure is pre-Covid, the Business Visits & Events Partnership (BVEP) is cautiously optimistic that we will see a bounce back in direct and indirect employment relating to the business events sector as the industry – and the UK economy - recovers.
However, the value of business events shouldn’t just be viewed in terms of a traditional economic return. There has been a significant shift in how value is evaluated in the global meetings market over the last decade. The biggest shift is in the mindset which changes business events from being ‘tourism’ events to events which bring substantial economic and societal impact.
It’s now broadly accepted that even though meeting delegates are one of the most valuable tourism sectors in terms of their direct spend in a destination, the biggest value from meetings comes from the vast quantities of knowledge that is created and shared, the inward investment and business connections that are stimulated and the societal, healthcare and economic challenges that are addressed and solved, when bringing world leaders to our region. These benefits include:
By their very nature, events, meetings, and conferences are natural spaces for sharing ideas and the transfer of knowledge. This ‘knowledge economy’ is estimated to be worth in excess of £95m per year but it offers more than just financial return. The opportunity to showcase best practice, share expertise, and support solutions and discoveries that go much wider than the event itself can also create a long-lasting societal impact.
Another key spin-off of conferences and events is the connections and relationships that develop, whether business or academic. And many can lead to long-term collaboration and innovation. By way of an example, the region is home to no less than four world-renowned academic institutes alongside other globally recognised organisations, including the James Hutton Institute and NHS Tayside. Collectively, this knowledge and skills resource has collaborated on numerous international research projects that have left lasting legacies worldwide.
And finally, bringing new and repeat business events or academic conferences to a region will ultimately serve to boost its reputation.
By building a region’s profile as a meeting destination, you can highlight its value and what the area offers to a wider audience, not only to delegates and conference organisers but also to potential inward investors, academics, business leaders, and students. All of which directly stand to benefit not only the local business and knowledge economies but also the area’s own communities and institutions.
And it is in this cyclical investment that the long-term value of business events lies.