Selling Britain: the event opportunity

Date: 26-06-2015

Tagged as: ArticleUnited KingdomGameplan


With event season upon us and a prestigious line-up including Wimbledon, Glastonbury and the British Grand Prix, Simon Hughes, Vice Chair of the Business Visits and Events Partnership (BVEP) explains why a prosperous events sector provides outstanding opportunities for businesses and for the UK economy.

Simon Hughes

Simon Hughes is Vice Chair of the Business Visits and Events Partnership (BVEP). He also runs a business consultancy specialising in providing strategic services to the events sector and has been involved in the events industry for more than 30 years.

EF977 BVEP at a glance

The UK is already a strong player in a competitive global events market – and the BVEP has set an ambitious target to increase the value of the events industry to the UK economy from £39bn last year1 to £48bn by 2020.

To achieve this goal there is a need to develop a joined-up approach between businesses, Government, industry bodies and communities to attract major events to the UK. We need to understand how best to promote Britain as a destination, and use our strengths to our advantage. We have iconic locations, great facilities and some of the most talented technical and creative experts in the world - we need to bring all that together and develop a more strategic, national approach.

Progress is already underway. Earlier this year, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport unveiled a cross-governmental strategy for UK events, which included the creation of a Business Visits & Events Board, a pan industry/government body tasked with identifying business opportunities and winning more global events for Britain.2 At the BVEP, we will be working closely with them to drive this agenda nationwide to help boost the economy and provide opportunities for business.

Regional benefits

A vibrant events sector creates economic prosperity and leaves a lasting legacy. Look at last year’s UK Grand Depart of the Tour de France where a £27m investment to bring the event to the UK generated £128m of economic benefit for the host regions.3 North of the border, the Glasgow Commonwealth Games is another example. While legacy benefits take time to evaluate for an event of this scale, it was delivered under budget and generated a reported £282m in tourism for the event itself.4

Similarly, although there is perhaps some debate to be had about the precise total value of the legacy of London 2012, the economic boost could reportedly be up to £41bn by 2020.5 A four year target of £11bn of economic benefits was reached after just fourteen months, with benefits now over £14.2bn.6 Facilities and infrastructure were improved around the various venues, skills and services were developed - and of course there is the lasting inspirational sporting legacy generated by the event itself. The buzz around the occasion caught attention around the world – the opening ceremony alone generated around 9.7m tweets7 and it put London front and centre on a truly global stage. It is still being talked about several years on.

Of course, every region plays host to a multitude of smaller-scale events each year, from meetings and conferences to music festivals. Large or small, they can all have a positive impact at a local level - and that diversity and spread is one of the things that drives the benefits at a national level.

Direct opportunities for businesses

The events sector creates direct opportunities for businesses throughout the whole of the country through its extended supply chain – from travel to accommodation, venues, catering, staffing, technical expertise, event design and production. It can be very diverse indeed. Consider the live music scene: the Glastonbury music festival creates a forum for global music stars and aspiring artists alike, helping to fuel recognition and sales in an industry centred on live performance. But beyond that, it calls for all sorts of technical, marketing and hospitality support.

There are lots of touch points across the extended events supply chain that create job opportunities and training demands, and that encourage investment in infrastructure, facilities and technology. All of this has the potential to benefit a broad spectrum of business and industry.

“Aligning your brand with a genuine, real time life experience can help drive growth.”

The brand opportunity

Events provide powerful marketing opportunities for businesses of all shapes and sizes to create customer experiences and drive the so-called ‘experience economy’.

Global brands seem particularly attuned to the opportunities. We’re seeing them invest in event activity and activation that really engages consumers and gives them an experience that is beyond anything they can get by sitting at a screen or tapping on their smartphone. Aligning your brand with a genuine, real-time, live experience can help drive growth.

Marathon success

In the UK, a good example of brands fully activating a recent major event is the London Marathon. Brands such as Virgin Money, Adidas, Bupa and Lucozade were making themselves felt not just through advertising and at the event itself but in terms of the training programmes, advisory information, and a range of branded products made available to people in the run up to the marathon.

For me, it’s a classic example of where brands have seen an exciting sporting event as an opportunity to engage directly with people from all walks of life who are passionate about what they do, associating themselves with the passion and perseverance it takes to complete a marathon.

The key is having the know-how to build events into an integrated communications plan. You need to be connected before, during and after the event, using digital to help you optimise your investment and measure its effectiveness versus other marketing channels.

A resilient industry that delivers tangible benefits

In my view, even when the economic environment is tough, events are an opportunity to bring people together in the same space at the same time and deliver tangible results unique to this channel. A US study has shown, for example, that at the height of the downturn in 2009, the meetings industry in the US contributed $458m to GDP and supported 6.3m jobs.8 The same effect applies here in the UK and for me, the value and scale of the opportunity is clear. The UK is a fantastic location for events, from iconic settings such as Glastonbury, Edinburgh Castle and Silverstone, to its world-renowned museums and unique venues, such as the Eden Project. We need to make the most of this value opportunity and work together to ensure that our events, whether large or small, international or local, show off our capabilities.

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