UKEVENTS, the umbrella organisation for the UK events industry, met with Sir John Whittingdale OBE, MP, the interim Minister for Tourism and Minister for Science, Innovation, and Technology, on 4th September, 2023. The meeting, initiated in response to a letter from the Minister, discussed specific areas in which the events sector could contribute to the United Kingdom’s economy and growth prospects.

Representing UKEVENTS were Chris Skeith OBE, Chair of UKEVENTS, and Michael Hirst OBE, Advocacy & Government Relations Lead.

Key Issues Discussed:

  • Boosting the Visitor Economy and Economic Growth: The primary focus of the meeting centred on encouraging the Government to harness the potential of the events industry as a catalyst for the recovery of the visitor economy and wider economic growth. UKEVENTS emphasised the pivotal role events can play in driving economic resurgence.
  • Attracting International Business and Expanding Events: UKEVENTS underscored the importance of winning more international business, fostering the growth of existing events, and creating new events aligned with government priorities. The events industry can serve as a cornerstone in positioning the UK as a global hub for business and leisure events.
  • Optimising Ministerial Advocacy and Soft Power: Recognising the unique influence wielded by the Minister in the fields of science, innovation, and technology, UKEVENTS explored strategies to maximise Ministerial advocacy and soft power in support of the events industry.
  • Addressing Challenges Faced by International Businesses: UKEVENTS also brought to the forefront the significant challenges posed by frictional costs and complexities encountered by international businesses when choosing the UK as their preferred destination. These obstacles were highlighted as impediments to the UK’s international positioning as the world’s premier meeting place.

Historical Perspective
In a broader historical context, the meeting acknowledged Sir John Whittingdale OBE’s tenure as Secretary of State for Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) in 2016. During this period, the Department published a pivotal Events Strategy, which paved the way for the establishment of the Events Industry Board. Subsequently, a Working Group within the Tourism Industry Council was created to oversee the objectives outlined in the Tourism Recovery Plan.

However, it was highlighted that an earlier bid, supported by DCMS officials, to establish a strategic delivery body for the industry had been unsuccessful. Such an entity, akin to institutions like UKSport, the Arts Council, and the Film & TV industry, would have played a vital role in capitalising on the significant growth opportunities presented by the events sector. This remains a priority if the full potential of the events industry in driving economic growth, particularly in the fields of science, innovation, and technology, is to be realised.

Evidence and a joined-up approach
During the discussion, the Minister emphasised the importance of providing evidence to influence Treasury thinking regarding the allocation of additional funding for any prospective new body. This underscores the necessity for a compelling case that articulates the economic and societal benefits that the events industry can deliver.

Furthermore, UKEVENTS stressed the need for a more coordinated approach across various DCMS directorates, especially those responsible for culture, creative industries, and tourism. Collaboration across different government departments was also deemed essential to address challenges such as frictional costs and complexity that may deter international businesses from choosing the UK as their preferred meeting place.

Looking to the future
UKEVENTS proposed a forward-looking initiative. This entails moving beyond the Tourism Recovery Plan and concentrating efforts on developing a comprehensive Tourism Growth Plan. This new plan would prioritise events, both in the realm of business and leisure, across the UK, thereby strengthening the nation’s status as the world’s premier meeting place.