In conversation: Paul Black on VisitBritain’s quest for legacy

Britain remains a strong appeal for the US market in terms of business events, while the ever-changing situation with China means that international business has not exceeded 2019 levels yet. There is a similar pattern across most of Europe: domestic events rein as international events gradually return.

The global event landscape is still recovering from the effects of the pandemic. For one, association congress cycles have been knocked out of sequence, while corporates have guarded their budgets more tightly due to economic uncertainty and inflation.

Paul Black (pictured above) is Head of Business Events at VisitBritain, and off the back of the Global Destination Report, which was released at IBTM World on 30 November, believes that 2023 will present a clearer picture of the sector.

In an exclusive interview with TBOE, Black says as international business gathers pace, it is vital that VisitBritain continues to offer guidance and support to those looking to ensure their business events leave a lasting legacy.    

The Business of Events: The global destination report noted that 52% of destinations around the world have seen either an increase or consistency in their funding, while 42% have seen their funding decrease. What are your observations on funding and subvention funding?

Paul Black: Having worked with Convention Bureaux across the UK, I’d say 2022 was a challenging year in terms of resources and budgeting for the event industry because of the pandemic. All Convention Bureaux reported a strong return in enquiries led mainly by domestic and displaced business and this is important when funding decisions are made by their respective administrations in the UK moving into 2023.

Subvention is a tricky one to gauge as this is not easily available; our VisitBritain Business Events Growth Programme, which is a marketing grant, has remained largely in parity with pre-pandemic levels.

TBOE: Compared to 2019, the report says that a significantly larger proportion of respondents have said they have seen a decrease in the volume of international business in 2022. Yet many have also said they’ve seen an increase in both regional and national business events. Do you recognise that trend from VisitBritain’s perspective; and do you think that perhaps next year that might change?

PB: It’s a difficult question, and no one has the answer as uncertainty remains. 2022 saw a strong return to live events led by the domestic market and displaced business from the pandemic. Also, a lot of international association rotations were affected and so moved forward into the next couple of years. This also impacts the longer-term business pipeline as everything is moved back because of those affected rotations and potential changes to event design.  

Our North American business has been very strong in terms of enquiry levels across corporate and incentive sectors which is important given it’s the UK’s highest spend market. For the European market we expect a clearer picture to emerge in 2023.

We did welcome some really prestigious events in 2022 such as One Young World in Manchester, The UK’s Real Estate Investment & Infrastructure Forum in Leeds, and in 2023 there will be more of the same with congresses such as the World Congress on Endometriosis in Edinburgh and the International Conference on Robotics and Automation in London.

Important here to also note our excellent trade show and exhibition industry which is a vital part of our business event inventory; with great events such as All Energy in Glasgow, Manufacturing and Engineering Week in Birmingham and BETT London all returning. However, with economic uncertainty affecting us all we know some budgets may be affected; even though the pandemic reminded many that experiential live or hybrid events are a critical part of their marketing mix.

TBOE: You’ve spoken to your international colleagues, are other destinations also seeing a decline or temporary decrease in international business; or is this a unique issue for Britain?

PB: We are all facing the same economic headwinds. It’s the same with energy costs. It is important to remember that England was one of the first countries to fully reopen its borders in March 2022 when there were still a lot of restrictions on travel. That’s still the case now, such as when you look at certain markets like China (our second biggest inbound market in 2019), which has only just  reopened its borders for travel.  

TBOE: The Global Destination Report notes 95% of respondents think legacy is either ‘very important’ or ‘somewhat important’. What has VisitBritain been doing to ensure business events leave a lasting legacy?

PB: Our role at VisitBritain Business Events, working with Scotland, Wales and England, is to support our City stakeholders with important transformational trends, and event legacy and impact is one of our key strands this year. Following the launch of our Legacy and Impact Guide last September, we are now part way through delivering a dedicated course for our UK CVBs to deepen understanding and implementation of impact strategies within business events working in partnership with clients, organisers and communities.

This course, created with our Partners at GDS Movement and Meet4Impact, focuses on defining impact intention, discussing implementation tactics, identifying best practice in storytelling, and highlighting ways in which to measure and maximise any generated impacts. It is a complicated transformation piece but an important area for our industry alongside the execution of more regenerative and sustainable events. These are not mutually exclusive but essential to drive positive change.

The European Association for the Study of the Liver held their congress at ExCel London last year and provides an excellent example here in the UK of event legacy and impact intention across liver disease, diagnosis, prevention and research. The Iceberg has created some excellent videos to summarise the approach and activation.


One response to “In conversation: Paul Black on VisitBritain’s quest for legacy

  1. […] This will negatively impact the UK’s international competitiveness at a time when green shoots of international business are starting to return. […]

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