The Business of Events policy forum returned in November, and Theresa Villiers MP, chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Events said the government should make full use of the sector. Martin Fullard reports.
There are no shortcuts when it comes to building relationships with Government, and for the events industry there are no exceptions. Politics isn’t a game, and while there are rules, there exists plenty of ambiguity also.
“There is no one particular strategy,” said Theresa Villiers MP, chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Events. She was speaking at the Business of Events, the UK’s events industry policy forum, which took place on 2 November at the QEII Centre in London.
She was asked how the industry should be engaging with government and how best to advocate. “I give the same advice that I give to any kind of campaign. It very much helps to put the time in to build relationships with MPs and with ministers,” she said. “In a sense, there aren’t any sort of easy shortcuts, you just need to take every opportunity to engage with MPs and ministers to explain what great businesses they have in their constituencies, how important it is, and what sort of the huge potential benefits exist in what you do.”
One of the topics of debate at the forum was very much where the wider events industry sits in terms of governmental department. Presently, it sits within the remit of the tourism minister (the incumbent, Stuart Andrew MP, was appointed on 3 November), itself under the under the sponsorship of the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS).
There were five representatives from the DCMS present at the Business of Events, and they will have heard calls for the industry to be repositioned, but the problem is there is no one place that ticks all the boxes. Alongside the DCMS, the industry has channels at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) and the Department for International Trade (DIT), which incidentally is where former tourism minister Nigel Huddleston is now working.
A clear voice
It is true that all government departments should support (not just recognise) the events industry more openly since it will always enhance their areas, from healthcare to the environment. Yet the fact remains the industry involves moving people around, and that means it is joined at the hip with what the government calls the ‘visitor economy’.
“I think it is taken seriously, I’ve obviously raised it on a number of occasions [in the House of Commons],” said Villiers on whether she thinks the sector is well regarded. “We had a particular champion in Nigel Huddleston, it’s a shame he’s no longer in that role. But there is undoubtedly a recognition in government of the crucial role that events play in our economy.”
Conveying the narrative of all the social good the sector facilitates has always been a problem for the events industry. There are a lot of voices, often overlapping, chirping contradictory numbers, and struggling to articulate the case clearly in Westminster-ese.
Even the name of the organisation which speaks directly to government must do what it says on the tin. On that note, sitting next to Theresa Villiers on stage, Chris Skeith OBE, chair of the Business Visits and Events Partnership (BVEP) and current umbrella body for the sector, unveiled its rebranding to UK Events.
“The changes [rebrand] better reflect the diverse nature of the events sector our partners represent which has grown to not only include meetings, conferences, exhibitions, and trade shows, but also incentive travel, event hospitality, ceremonies, sporting, cultural, outdoor and festivals,” said Skeith.
“Many positive things have been executed under the BVEP name, I know I speak for many of our members and executives when I say we’re proud of all that we have achieved and how we’ve evolved since the partnership was formed in 1999.
“But progression is about moving forward and adopting alternative approaches, and I look forward to continuing our work with a fresh and exciting new look. The UK Events name incorporates how our members are adapting and growing in line with the UK’s ever-changing events industry, and demonstrates that as a collective, our sector is a serious contender for international trade, exports and inward investment.”
Villiers added that she welcomed the rebrand, which is now more in line with the branding of UK Hospitality, UK Sport, and UK Music (all independent organisations from each other).
She said: “There are clearly lots of trade associations in the sector, understandably, because it’s very diverse and it covers a huge range of businesses with some things in common. But there are a lot of things that are very different, therefore it needs multiple trade associations. The important thing is all those representatives and trade associations are talking to one another regularly.”
UK Events is not a trade association itself, but rather a conduit to government, with trade body membership, including the likes of the Meetings Industry Association, Business Events and Meetings, the Association of British Professional Conference Organisers and the Event Industry Alliance.
Villiers has grown into her role as chair of the APPG for Events, and noted she is actively courting further back bench MPs to join her on the group, particularly those in constituencies which host large events or have significant venue stock. She also called for ministers to be more proactive in using events as launchpads for further investment and to market Britain to the world.
“We need to ensure that the government has a focus on using events as a form of regeneration,” she said. “Even in these difficult times, there are still sizeable budgets available to destinations the levelling up fund.
“Ministers should understand that one of the best ways to potentially deploy those resources is at events, and to ensure that the government’s activity, in terms of exports, trade, and inward investment recognises that. We should have our ministers out there in the wider world selling this as a destination for fantastic business meetings and conferences.”
Business events can support government policy and leave a lasting positive legacy. The industry is ready to deliver, and the door to parliament is ajar. It’s time to walk through. As James Latham from the Iceberg so eloquently put it, the story should be less about value consumption, but rather the value creation.
What is The Business of Events?
TBOE is a not-for-profit policy forum, which brings together government, civil service and industry stakeholders. In 2022, the forum was opened with a keynote from Dame Judith Macgregor, chair, British Tourist Authority, and included talks from Bruno Murray, VP – commercial, AMEX GBT, Anna Abdelnoor, founder, Isla, and representatives from VisitBritain, VisitScotland, and VisitWales.