The Association of Event Organisers (AEO) has heralded the start of a groundbreaking accord with government to boost the profile of the UK exhibition industry.
The body is drawing up a strategic planning document following its June meeting with a raft of senior government representatives.
The initial meeting on 5 June at Downing Street featured the No 10 Policy Unit, the Cabinet, the Treasury, the Department of Culture, Media and Sport, UKTI, Visit Britain and London & Partners.
Clarion Events, Informa, UBM, i2i Events Group and ITE Group were some of the big names from the exhibition organising community.
Now AEO chief executive Karim Halwagi has exclusively told Exhibition News that the industry has made a successful step in reaching the corridors of Whitehall.
“The prime minister must back our industry,” he told EN. “We wanted to go all the way to the top and drill down from there. We didn’t want to sneak in at the bottom and eke up the ladder. We’ve all wanted it, we’ve all talked about it.
“That’s the biggest bit. “We were there and with the right people. Not just one, but multiple departments.
“It’s important to understand how broad those departments are, and to see what they actually cover. We were meeting with senior people from the Cabinet. That’s what enthused me.”
Halwagi drew attention to the success of the German exhibition market, in particular the high-level government support the industry receives.
“Germany recognises the importance of exhibitions to bring business people together, to do business, stimulate trade, thereby stimulating the economy, thereby growing the country.
“We need the UK to further recognise that and utilise it, more importantly,” Halwagi said.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel opened the CeBIT show at Hannover Messe earlier this year, with Prime Minister David Cameron also a guest.
“Angela Merkel doesn’t do it for the organisers of CeBIT per se, she does it for her country, because it’s such an important sector and they understand the importance of the sector for their economy,” Halwagi added.
“We need the government to understand this and work with us in a more integrated fashion for the common goal. David Cameron has recognised what the event was doing for Germany and said ‘where is this inthe UK?’”
Organiser Informa has said this joint organiser initiative has “put the industry properly on the map with government”. Head of investor relations Richard Menzies-Gow added: “There is recognition of the economic value generated by the industry, but also how much greater this could be if
the government and the industry worked closer together in a more collaborative way.”
The organiser would now like to see further help for the industry, including making it easier to secure visas for overseas attendees, ensuring the attendance of relevant senior ministers, helping fund investment in new venue capacity and for the government to be clear what its priorities are in terms of sectors, so the industry can work in partnership towards building platforms to promote these areas.
“Germany is perhaps the best example where investment and support from government over the long-term has help to generate whole industries indifferent regions of the country,” added Menzies-Gow.
“It has always focused less on short-term impact and cost, remaining focused on the long-term returns the industry can generate.”
Meanwhile Halwagi stressed that the industry has to tread carefully in its dialogue with the government.
“We have to be careful with this new-found relationship that we don’t blow it apart too early. We don’t want to overwhelm anybody with demands and protests. We want to nurture this relationship.
“We are not here to service any particular company, it’s not about any individual. We need to work in line with government on strategic objectives to develop a platform from which government can highlight these objectives and the event will be winner almost in the background.
“For all those readers of Exhibition News, I hope they understand this recognition is not about individuals,it’s not about the people that went to Downing Street.”
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