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‘We haven’t played our cards yet’: Brexit

‘We haven’t played our cards yet’: Brexit

James Heappey, MP, and chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for UK Events identifies three big Brexit-related issues for the UK events industry.

Originally published in CMW‘s sister title EN.

Speaking at a Meetings Industry Association EU roundtable discussion (sponsored by EN’s sister title Conference News) at Church House in London last night (11 October), Heappey recognised the need to push the industry’s voice with ‘soft power’ and believed the three main Brexit-related issues for the events sector to lobby on were:

  • The ability to recruit and retain staff
  • Easing access (including visa questions) for international business people from emerging markets to come to the UK
  • The potential threat to UK companies accessing the industry supply chain in the EU post-Brexit

He has called for the UK events industry to line up with the hospitality lobby and concentrate on these issues, when talking to government about the challenges of Brexit.

A panel of industry leading figures took part in a lively discussion, as part of the mia’s ongoing campaign to ensure its members are best equipped to maximise business opportunities and minimise the impact of Brexit.

Mia chief executive Jane Longhurst opened the roundtable with a call for the industry to keep communicating over the implications of Brexit and to keep the issue firmly on the agenda.

Chairing the roundtable, Jeremy Jacobs asked the panel whether reports of exports rising six per cent in September and of the positive effects of the falling pound for exports had created any bounce or bubble for the events sector.

Heappey said the markets hadn’t reacted to the full implications of Brexit yet: “We haven’t played our cards yet and I’m not sure the long-term macro implications are good.”

Tracy Halliwell , director of business tourism and major events at London & Partners, said London had seen a 40 per cent jump in enquiries for events, although admitted some of that was domestic demand.

“London is suddenly not such an expensive destination,” she noted and there were some reports of bookers from abroad looking to lock in payments at the current more favourable exchange rate.

Jonathan Morris, commercial director at The King’s Fund in London, was not so bullish, reporting a 10% drop in business at the venue in recent months, post referendum.

And Dale Parmenter, group CEO for the drp group, said that although there were stories of foreign banks thinking of removing staff from London, four major financial institutions that his agency worked with were ramping up their events, at least in the short term.

Diane Waldron, sales and marketing director at the QEII Centre, noted enquiries had reason at her venue 10% since the June vote, although she admitted: “Clients are expressing concerns. Beyond that, it is more of a ‘wait and see’”.

Heappey reminded the panel that the UK was the fifth largest economy in the world and said he was sure banks weren’t going to quit London.

After much discussion on staffing issues for the industry, the visa situation and security implications of taking back control of UK borders, the panel’s consensus was to look to the positives and to ensure Government heard the voice of a united industry which should be sharing experiences and information and concentrating its lobbying fire on the three key issues identified, with staffing issues in general and short-term contract staffing for hospitality in particular, the number one concern.

As Parmenter said: “We should be looking at opportunities and playing up our strengths, not the downside.”

Halliwell added that the industry’s voice had got a lot stronger of late: “We do have a voice now and people are listening, including the DCMS. And our sector does underpin economic growth.”

Waldron added: “We need to shout about the value of the events industry and of knowledge sharing. It is not just about money.”

“If the visitor offer is so compelling, then it buys out some of the risk of Brexit,” noted Heappey, who urged efforts to keep the UK as a destination of choice for events.

“The industry needs not to lose heart, although the worst of the economic consequences is still to come,” he said.

Heappey again stressed the importance of the meetings and events sector to work closely with the hospitality industry on its input to government in order to stand out. “Every sector will seek to tweak legislation to its own interest and it is important, therefore, not to lobby as sub sectors.” The industry, he advised, should also consider getting the services of a professional lobbying agency.

The MP’s final words of advice: “See the opportunity and have a plan to navigate the situation.”

[A full report on the mia roundtable will be published in November’s Conference News magazine.]

James Heappey is set to speak to the debate on Brexit and the tourism industry, on 12 October in parliament. Coverage available on the Parliamentary Channel.