The UK Government has unveiled its new Tourism Recovery Plan to help the sector build back better from the pandemic, which includes benefits for the business events industry, such as investment in the sector around the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games.
A review into how the UK’s Destination Management Offices are run is also underway and this could yield further benefit to the business travel and events industry.
The plan aims to recover domestic tourism to pre-pandemic levels by 2022 and international tourism by 2023, which the UK Government says is at least a year faster than independent forecasts predict.
The plan notes that Covid-19 has caused “significant disruption” to the business events industry. Disruption came early on, with cancellations of shows as early as January 2020. Between March and December of 2020, no live business events were able to take place involving more than 30 people. An estimated 17.5% of event and exhibition businesses are estimated to have permanently ceased trading during 2020.
The plan notes the business events industry had made extensive use of the UK government’s support package. Ninety-four percent of venues are estimated to have used the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, and 40% of firms across the industry still had between 75% and 100% of staff on furlough in September 2020.
What the plan says
The UK Government said it wants to improve the attractiveness of the UK’s offer and become the World’s Meeting Place, continuing to host set piece global events such as the annual World Travel Market which will next take place in London in November 2021. Events can play a major role in asserting Britain’s international trading strength, the Government noted, highlighting components of its industrial strategy, its creativity and its commercial inventiveness. As well as the economic impacts of both business and leisure events, there is now much wider recognition of the many other benefits to accrue from hosting and staging conferences and other business events: research sharing, knowledge transfer, professional development, networking and relationship building, and the attraction of inward investment opportunities are among such benefits.
Before Covid-19, the Government was making progress on delivering the UK International Business Events Action Plan and in 2019-2020, VisitBritain’s Business Events Growth Programme achieved an estimated return on investment of 27:1 on the grants it issued to grow international business events held in the UK. 107 Event bidders were making use of Ministerial advocacy to enhance their bids.
The objectives of the growth programme this year are to showcase that the UK is ready to meet again, as well as to encourage greater international trade and investment, and to increase economic benefits through additional international visitor spend – while adapting to new ways of meeting in a Covid-19 secure environment.
This year, VisitBritain has established from within their budget allocation a UK-wide domestic fund for business events. This new fund will provide financial support to kick start the return of business events attended by largely domestic audiences. The value of the fund is £100,000 in the financial year 2021-22 and it will be open for applications until 30 November 2021.
Further investment in digital infrastructure is designed to enable event venues to produce stronger bids to secure future international business events.
The Ministerial advocacy programme is to be enhanced and ministers will commit to delivering keynote speeches on a regular basis at international business events held in the UK. The government will also work with GREAT and VisitBritain to designate sector-specific UK-wide events ambassadors.
To drive forward these commitments, the Government has created a cross-Whitehall group of senior officials in key departments with an interest in growth and business events. This group will be tasked with developing a target list of international business events for the government to focus on bringing to – and retaining in – the UK, and developing a plan to host them here.
The UK government also said it would work with the events industry produce a strategy for sustainable business events and identify the skills and capacity gaps that have emerged as a result of both the pandemic’s impact on the workforce, and of structural changes to the industry.