Venue view: Because we’re worth it

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While many estimates have been made of the value of the global meetings industry, (£36bn to the UK alone according to the Business Visits and Events Partnership and upwards of US$500bn globally according to MPI), the fact that this industry is a significant creator of wealth is still not widely recognised. As a result, there is a need for all involved in convention centre management to keep shouting from the rooftops that our industry, both the events themselves and the venues that host them, continues to provide significant levels of economic impact to both local and global economies. 

When I entered the eemtings industry 35 years ago, the economy was reeling from the after-effect of a secondary banking crisis. Such periods of economic uncertainty seem to inspire enlightened cities to grasp the notion that conventions and meetings are potent drivers for regenerating economies.

I experienced this first hand while working for the UK’s National Exhibition Centre in Birmingham in the 1980’s, when the marketplace for events was difficult, as now. Over time, occupancy of those massive halls grew, new ones were built and a huge part of Birmingham’s economic regeneration and success today can be directly linked to the creation of the NEC and, later, the International Convention Centre.

Another lesson came from experiencing the miraculous growth of the Asian Tigers in 1986. As one of the founding directors of the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre (HKCEC), I was part of the team that opened the first phase of this venue. It became a success almost overnight.

Behind that was a clear intention by the Government of Hong Kong to attract more inward investment and business tourists, and while the economic benefit to the Special Administrative

Region from the HKCEC was significant then, it must be even bigger today.

Another example: the Royal Thai Government in 1991 winning a tremendous ‘coup’ to host the IMF/World Bank meetings outside its traditional home in Washington DC.

While the Government was not required to build a new convention centre for these meetings, it did so.

The objective was to gain maximum economic impact from this influential international meeting of financiers and economists. Helping the Thais open the Queen Sirikit National Convention Centre, I watched it serve this purpose well.

More recently, I was with the City of Toronto and SMG at Exhibition Place, a 200-acre site for conferences and events attended by over 4.5m visitors a year. Again, the Mayor and city councillors were a never ending source of support because the economic benefit to the city and its residents was, and still is, clear to see.

Now responsible for the British Government’s QEII Conference Centre in Westminster, London, I am witnessing how a conference centre with 300–400 high profile events a year costs the Government nothing but earns a considerable sum for the community it serves. In fact it pays a healthy dividend.     

This was first published in Issue 68/2012 of CMW. Any comments? Email cmw@mashmedia.net

Conference & Meetings World is published for the international conference and meetings industry. It tackles the issues facing organisers of international events. The editorial is independent, fresh and news driven, with a global reach.

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