The vital contribution to the Scottish economy made by the events sector deserves wider recognition and better support, says Chris Lawson
The events industry is a funny beast. Firstly, your definition of an event is probably different to mine regardless of the dictionary definition; we each cultivate our own views based on our experiences. For example, my friends in the theatre world would never use the term “event” for one of their shows. However, we run one of the biggest festivals of theatre in the world in Edinburgh and yet we think of a festival as an event. For me an event is a “gathering” and that covers everything from corporate events to culture, the arts, sporting events and music. Each area is served by a vast supply chain, literally from A to Z. From AV companies to venues – and yes, that includes zoos.
‘Staycations’ boost sales
Who would have thought that an announcement from HSBC on 8 February, 2007 would see a total collapse of the banking system and the worst financial crisis since the 1930s. It’s been a little over five years since the run on the Northern Rock – and we still aren’t out of the woods.The business events sector was undoubtedly one of the worst affected. Both private and public sector budgets were slashed and redundancies followed, resulting in less disposable income. In short, companies no longer had the money to put on events and less people had the income to attend. Consequently, however, in 2009, the word “staycation” came to our shores and the fringe society reported record sales. They put it down to people trying to escape the gloom of the recession. In fact, since the recession hit, ticket sales have grown in all but one year. Likewise, T in the Park has sold out nearly every year since 2007.
So how is the overall event market sector looking in 2013? This year, more than 400 festivals will take place in Scotland and they all bring in vital revenue to both the national and local economies. The business events sector is buoyant, and although there is clearly a long way still to go, Glasgow City Marketing Bureau (GCMB) figures from last year report an increase in the average hotel occupancy. In fact, when “The Boss” – Bruce Springsteen – played this year, coupled with a conference at SECC, hotels had 100 per cent occupancy within a ten-mile radius, 9,000 rooms bringing in £1million to the Glasgow economy.
The GCMB also reported that they alone brought in £144.1m in conventions and events. Edinburgh attracted more than 55,000 delegates, delivering some £84.4m of economic benefit to the local area in the 12-month period from April 2012 – an increase of £10m compared with 2011-12.
Economic contribution of Scottish venues
During 2012, Edinburgh also hosted 67 internationally classified events recognised by the International Congress and Convention Association (ICCA) criteria, 15 more events than in 2011. The ICCA revealed in May that once again Edinburgh had strengthened its position as one of the world’s most successful conference destinations – outperforming other leading international cities to take 33rd position in the world rankings league. London took 6th place, while Glasgow (68th) and Manchester (78th) were the only other two UK cities to appear in the list which analyses global meeting trends.
The Aberdeen Exhibition and Conference Centre (AECC) recently reported a turnover of £7.1m and an economic contribution to Aberdeen City and Aberdeenshire of an estimated £109m last year.
On this basis, the economic contribution of the SECC/EICC/AECC alone is significant, and this can be expected to grow in 2014 with the opening of The Hydro at the SECC and the expansion of the EICC.
Sporting events also bring in their share, with the SPL and SRU worth over £150m to the Scottish economy. With two major sporting events happening next year, the Commonwealth Games and the Ryder Cup, we expect to see a massive boost to the industry.
So the million dollar question is... just how much is the industry worth? The closest figures suggest around £1.5 billion. But I believe this to be a very low estimate. In fact, one of the key drivers in creating the Scottish Events and Festivals Association (SEFA) was to get an accurate picture on this. The Office for National Statistics figures used to inform the current accepted statistics are both insufficiently comprehensive and fine grained to give an accurate picture. That is why SEFA believes research is needed to establish the true picture, so that the industry can be properly valued and appropriately supported.
Why does this matter? Because a huge supply chain of businesses and jobs underpins the Scottish events and festivals industry – everything from football matches to business conferences and music festivals. These all depend on a range of skilled professional support services which make a large contribution to the Scottish economy. We need to know the size of the industry and the people working in it so we can value it and grow it to benefit the Scottish economy.
In summary, we are on the road to recovery, not quite out of the woods, but nearly there. I am optimistic for the future of the industry. Hopefully, with the addition of SEFA now on the events scene, the industry can find its voice and its worth to the Scottish economy.