Marshall Dallas: Putting the professionalism into conferencing

Marshall Dallas is the chief executive of the Edinburgh International Conference Centre. Picture: Jane Barlow
Marshall Dallas is the chief executive of the Edinburgh International Conference Centre. Picture: Jane Barlow
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Here at the Edinburgh International Conference Centre (EICC), our mission statement centres on “creating an environment which inspires ideas that change the world”.

Here at the Edinburgh International Conference Centre (EICC), our mission statement centres on “creating an environment which inspires ideas that change the world”.

We regularly welcome many of the largest conferences to Edinburgh, conferences where big ideas and the latest research in areas like medicine, health, the natural world and technology are discussed in detail by leading experts in their respective fields. As home to the Scottish Enlightenment in centuries past and today, in the 21st century, with some of the best universities around and a vibrant cultural scene that is about to take off in the month of August, Edinburgh remains an alluring business and tourist destination and we strive to do our bit as part of the collective effort to keep the city on top.

This week we have been attending a major international gathering that has been examining the most important themes, opportunities and challenges facing the conference and events industry. One major takeaway for me has been the increasing need to invest in our people as we plan for the years ahead.

At the end of May, President Barack Obama graced our venue with one of his first major public appearances since leaving the White House and reminded the great and good of Scottish society that it is the next generation of leaders – from politics, civic life, business and social enterprise – that will shape the future for all of us. I am excited to see what the Obama Foundation and Obama Presidential Centre go on to achieve and it was interesting that the former President returned to the concept of leadership throughout a keynote speech.

Fostering leadership in the next generation is something close to my own heart and it is with great satisfaction that we recently launched the UK’s first MSc in Business Event Management in partnership with Edinburgh Napier University. Previously, students could only study business event management at undergraduate level and we’re aiming to attract event managers of the future from not only Scotland and the UK but from across the globe.

With world-class events taking place every day of the week, we want our MSc students to be in the thick of the action at the EICC and working with our top people because we think this is the kind of experience that will give them the confidence to be the next generation of leaders in the industry. We also think the learning process will be a two-way thing and look forward to working with our intake of students in areas like digital because, in a similar way to every other business sector, the conference and events industry is going to see even greater levels of digital transformation in the years ahead. The MSc is well positioned to take advantage of the fast-growing UK events sector, currently valued at over £40 billion and contributing almost £2bn to the Scottish economy alone and it’s more important than ever in 2017 that we keep up with the global competition. Our first intake of students will be in place this September and we’re looking to have around 15 people on the course in the first year. Edinburgh Napier University is Scotland’s leading university in hospitality, tourism and events and as Scotland’s leading conference venue, we want to build a Masters degree that is as good as anything anywhere else on the international scene. We will be providing work placements for the MSc students and delivering guest lectures at Napier’s main Craiglockhart Campus just outside the city centre. There is a great feeling of collective confidence that the Master’s degree can be a real differentiator for the students who undertake it. We want the MSc to be a platform for innovation and future leadership and the team and I are thrilled to be involved. And who knows, maybe one of the graduates from this programme will one day be sitting behind my desk!

• Marshall Dallas is the chief executive of the Edinburgh International Conference Centre (EICC)