Between the lines: EICC aims to be the best

The EICC has turned around its finances after a successful year, attracting more international conferences. Picture: Steven Scott Taylor.
The EICC has turned around its finances after a successful year, attracting more international conferences. Picture: Steven Scott Taylor.
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It’s been an incredible year at the Edinburgh International Conference Centre (EICC) and the first 12 months of my tenure as chief executive have flown by. 2015 has marked a significant turnaround in the performance of the organisation, which is attracting more international delegates to Edinburgh than ever as we set sights on making the EICC a best-of-class conference facility.

It’s important to benchmark ourselves against the best venues around the globe, with more than 60 per cent of our business now coming from outside the UK. I’m pleased to say we are on course to double the number of large international association conferences in 2016; something that can be put down to a more focused marketing approach, as well as the recent £35 million expansion, which means that the EICC now has a far more competitive offering against any international conference destination.

But we can’t take all the credit here, as Edinburgh itself is on an upward curve as a conference destination. This is thanks to a combination of factors that include infrastructure improvements and airport links to the city, a burgeoning technology hub, an increasingly vibrant arts and cultural scene, and the rise of our world-renowned universities. I think this speaks volumes about how various city partners have linked up to reach common goals. When you decide you want to be great rather than good, and people pull in the same direction, the results can be transformational.

At last month’s Scottish Business Awards – confirmed as the UK’s largest business dinner on record and with a certain Hollywood celebrity in attendance – more than 2,000 guests were served by our food and beverages partner, Leith’s, who sourced local and sustainable produce through a recently signed pledge with Scotland Food & Drink. Sustainability and green credentials are massively important to us and to the many delegates and associations that choose the EICC.

To be a world-class business you need world-class ambition. Our team and its commitment to the highest levels of customer service continue to be the EICC’s greatest asset. As well as hosting delegates from around the world in 2015, we have been out telling the EICC story at international industry events in Boston, Frankfurt, Chicago and Buenos Aires. As well as putting Edinburgh in the shop window. they also provide an invaluable way of keeping tabs on the competition and picking up tricks of the trade.

Our InnovationNation public lecture series, launched in early 2015, is something we plan to continue next year. Speakers such as Fergus Linehan and Kath Mainland from Edinburgh’s International and Fringe Festivals, and Professor Harald Haas of LiFi fame, have helped us to celebrate the best of innovation in Scotland. It’s a reminder that we too must innovate if we want to continue to succeed. The EICC celebrated its 20th anniversary this September and we’re on the cusp of contributing £500 million to the local economy during that span.

When I took up the CEO post, the EY accountancy group’s report on the forecast finances for the EICC was one of the first things to come across my desk. EY predicted an operating loss of £1.4m for 2015. While we will not be reporting our annual results until the close of the first quarter of next year, I can disclose that we will mitigate the forecast losses by over £1m. This kind of turnaround is largely testament to the hard graft put in by my team, and shows that the EICC is far more on the front foot going into 2016.

l Marshall Dallas is chief ­executive of the Edinburgh International ­Conference Centre