The latest edition in the Business of Events conference series took place on Friday 26 October, in Westminster’s QEII Centre.
The event brought together senior figures in the events industry alongside James Heappey MP, chair of the industry’s All Party Parliament Group. One of the key topics was how the industry can offer a unified voice in speaking to government, and better lobby for funding, support and representation.
Heappey opened the discussions on day two by focusing on the power of events to build communities. With one eye on Brexit, he commented: “Events can bridge the gap between people, whether its politics, age, or nationality. A programme of events can build a community.”
He also raised the possibility of generating funding for the UK’s tourism industry with a £1 bed tax on hotel stays. The idea, though potentially controversial, has the potential to generate huge amounts of new business for the hospitality sector.
Heappey spoke about the importance of bringing outdoor events and festivals into the fold when taking the events industry to government. He said he found it ‘frustrating’ that there was often little representation from those in the outdoor sector at industry conferences such as TBOE.
Speaking in the following seminar, VisitScotland’s head of business events Neil Brownlee said that he disagreed, and that bringing the outdoor sector in “muddies the waters”. He believed that business events and “save-the-world, cure-cancer type conferences” needed to be promoting their social benefit to the rest of the world in a way festivals cannot.
Brownlee was joined on stage by a panel from VisitWales, Tourism Northern Ireland, London & Partners, and VisitBritain. They discussed the key challenges and developments each of their organisations has faced over the past 12 months. Government funding, Brexit, and getting all the venues in a country on board with the same marketing message were mentioned as key challenges.
Following this, the group reconvened from a coffee break with an interactive exercise, which asked everyone in the room to line up along the wall in order of how many years they had worked in the events industry. Fittingly for a conference named Senior Leadership Forum, the amount of total experience in the room added up to a whopping 3,788 years, nine months and five days.
EN’s Stuart Wood was situated at the end of the line, proudly contributing four months of experience to the grand total. He was only bested by one new employee at the Department of Media, Culture and Sport who received a round of applause after announcing she had joined only five days ago.
Bridging the gap between old and young in the industry was a topic around CN’s table during the lunch break, where we spoke to Glenn Bowdin, principal lecturer in events management at Leeds Beckett University. He stressed the importance of making business events a more visible and attractive career path for young people, suggesting that festival management could be a strong in-road to getting them on these kinds of university courses.
As the talks resumed, we received an update from WRIGHT director Sarah Wright on the status of the Event Management Apprenticeship Programme, which has already set up 85 apprenticeships for the sector, and is continuing to grow. Wright also provided the results of the EIB Talent Taskforce, a survey which looked at skills, talent and HR practices in the events industry.
A key statistic which stood out to CN was that 64% of all entry level recruits in the industry move on to different jobs within two years. Is this perhaps a suggestion that there is not enough potential for those entering the industry to upskill and take up more senior positions?
Regardless, the Senior Leadership Forum proved an important focal point for industry figures both old and young. The conference series (which we previously attended at The Business of Events Wales in Newport) has been an insightful one, helping to drive the events sector forward through communication and collaboration.
In the uncertain era of Brexit, presenting events to the Government as a united, ever-growing and international industry has become increasingly important.