Industry watch: The ear of government

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During the Exhibition News Race Day at Silverstone last November, panellists raised the need for the industry to increase its influence over government and promote its importance as an economically significant sector. While audience members were quick to agree, knowledge of one of the primary groups leading this charge, the Business Visits and Events Partnership (BVEP), was scarce. So why do we need such a group? BVEP chairman Michael Hirst said the partnership is a coming together of 20 associations and agencies with an equal stake and common goal: To raise the profile of events. While each trade association has unique issues and business challenges, they also have a lot in common, Hirst told EN. “VAT is a common thread and one of the issues we confront,” he explained. “Another common issue is subvention, which basically refers to national and local support for events. The other broader topic everyone can relate to is raising the profile of the events sector among people who have influence, such as policy makers.” The BVEP’s charter is to provide a cohesive voice for the events industry, promote the benefits of business visits and events to local and national government, influence policy and strategies that support and drive the sector, and use key influencers to provide a compelling industry message to the wider world. The BVEP was formed in 2000 as the Business Tourism Partnership and became a standalone group in 2009 after government agency VisitBritain withdrew from promoting business tourism. Despite this, Hirst cited a higher rate of interest in the sector than ever before. The introduction of an All-Party Parliamentary Group in 2011, which the BVEP claims to have played an instrumental role in setting up alongside the Event Industry Forum, has also been touted as a major step forward. It has 27 members and is led by MP Nick De Bois, a former conference organiser. In recent months, the BVEP has moved to improve its relevance through a stronger sense of partner responsibility. In December, it announced four vice-chair positions to share the work of its chairman and deliver new terms of reference: The Event Industry Alliance’s (EIA) Chris Skeith, ISES International’s Richard Foulkes, MPI’s Sammy Allen and Eventia’s Simon Hughes.  “We don’t try and step on the turf of any individual trade association, we’re there to make sure everyone is working hard at what they are individually doing and when there are opportunities to work collegiately, then we do,” Hirst said.  Distributing information is another major focus and led the BVEP to endorse and promote the regular Britain for Events reports on the size and value of the events industry, as well as launch its Meetings and Events Manifesto for Britain, which will be updated in advance of the 2015 election. Bilateral meetings with ministers from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, where live events sit in terms of government policy, are also high on the agenda, alongside growing engagement with UK Trade and Investment and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. In addition, getting on the local agenda is increasingly important, Hirst said, adding at least eight per cent of the total workforce of any constituency in the UK is employed in the events sector. The success of the London 2012 Olympic Games and how its legacy can benefit the live events industry long-term hasn’t escaped BVEP’s notice either. “It wasn’t leisure traffic that really made the difference; business volumes were up seven per cent in 2012,” Hirst said. “That’s higher than volumes in holiday traffic. “People got the message that a big sporting occasion is as much about brand and business communication as it is about sport. It was a wake-up call that resonated in the right places.” Industry service While showcasing the strength of events is important, Hirst said the BVEP isn’t the only answer to getting the ear of government. He called on exhibition organisers to cement their position as influencers within the industries they serve. BVEP can help with indirect issues impacting how events operate and grow. Instrumental to its strategy is encouraging key influencers to speak out.  “Individuals such as Kevin Murphy [Excel chairman] and Paul Thandi [The NEC Group MD] can better say what we have to say because they are better listened to,” Hirst said. “When Willie Walsh of British Airways talked about the Government’s lack of urgency on growth, and how the Government couldn’t possibly run an airline, that gets column inches. Ministers look up when business leaders who produce the profits and employ the people say these things.” At the same time, events need to showcase their economic, social, and cultural benefits. Hirst claimed the Government’s investment in the Britain for Events ‘Great’ tourism marketing campaign was an example of how things had progressed around visitor promotion, but there is a long way to go with the trade and export agencies. Ultimately, there’s no one way of achieving the recognition business events deserves, Hirst warned, adding the BVEP is not a single pill that fixes all problems or provides the only solution. “We are into the herbal remedy and taking a concoction of vitamins to get the right balance, rather the single solution,” he concluded. Facts and figures The business events sector is worth £36.1bn per annum to the national economy. It is the UK’s fifth largest industry economy and the fastest growing employer. Visitors to UK exhibitions from overseas spent 193 per cent more per day than leisure visitors to Britain. Source: Britain for Events, 2010. This was first publshed in the the February 2013 edition of EN. Any comments? Email exhibitionnews@mashmedia.net
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