Unconventional type of global warfare

Edinburgh could do more to attract business tourists to the city. Picture: Jane Barlow

Edinburgh could do more to attract business tourists to the city. Picture: Jane Barlow

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SCOTLAND must fight for more tourist cash, argues John Donnelly

Last month Convention Edinburgh (CE), the business tourism arm of Marketing Edinburgh, was runner-up in the national Meeting & Incentive Travel Awards. To be recognised as one of the best convention bureaus by our UK peers is something I’m immensely proud of. The fact that we received our nomination as a result of our clients and members voting for us is incredibly rewarding and down purely to the hard work and expertise of our business tourism team.

It is a strong start to 2015, yet there is much to be done. Our rival destinations are not simply UK based, it’s Istanbul, Paris, Lisbon and Vienna – international hubs. This is a fiercely competitive backdrop. Many other cities have not only substantially bigger budgets, but also incentive pay-outs to entice those profitable, big-ticket conventions.

Business tourism brings immense benefits to the broader economy – and we see opportunity for further growth. In Edinburgh, tourism related employment accounts for 12 per cent of the city’s full-time workforce, employing over 32,000 people. With 18 per cent of the city’s four million annual visitors traveling to Edinburgh for a conference, meeting or event, business tourism plays a critical role in our economic success, particularly in the quieter months, generating jobs and reducing visitor seasonality.

VisitScotland estimate that conferences and events generate around £1.9 billion per year for this country, hosting more than seven million delegates per year. VisitBritain calculates around 30 per cent of visitors to the UK last year were business tourists. These visitors not only generate a higher average tourist spend, they are likely to revisit as a leisure tourist at a future date.

Edinburgh is the UK’s most popular destination outside London. While we don’t have the deep pockets of some of the international marketing bureaus, the city is incredibly rich in other ways, with award-winning, incredible venues, amazing food and drink, famous festivals, a fascinating history and an inspirational setting.

Yet, there is no escaping the fact that for Edinburgh to attract more high profile, high value conventions, we need to raise our game and market ourselves more effectively. It’s two years since CE outlined its most comprehensive business strategy plan in the organisation’s history, one with ambitious targets, including increasing our international association conference destination ranking to the top 20 in the world. 2014-15 was one of CE’s strongest years to date – working with our members to secure 208 new conferences which are expected to bring more than 65,000 delegates in the coming years, generating an estimated £92.3 million.

For the first time we also secured a significant presence at key international business tourism events, such as IMEX America in Las Vegas. Armed with a new business tourism promotional film, which premiered at the event, CE, along with VisitScotland and our members such as EICC and the Sheraton Grand Hotel & Spa, were able to directly engage with hundreds of top influencers and decision-makers on an unprecedented scale.

This year, we’re rolling out a key element of our convention strategy. A new website, conventionedinburgh.org, was launched recently, offering practical support and clear, jargon-free guidance to the full – and free – CE service. This is not just about promoting Edinburgh to delegates and event organisers, it’s about giving potential local ambassadors the knowledge, materials and advice to enable them to go out and bring conventions back.

Creating ambassadors who may bring a potential new meeting or event to this country offers huge potential growth for the business tourism market. It’s a model that Convention Edinburgh has successfully established with its mainly academic-based Edinburgh Ambassador Programme, a partnership that has generated more than £510m of economic impact for the city in the last decade.

It’s early days, although I’m confident. While global competition is fierce, international event organisers and conference buyers increasingly cite the “total experience” of a destination as their priority, and there are few locations that can top Edinburgh. The opportunity is there for the taking.

• John Donnelly, Chief Executive, Marketing Edinburgh, www.conventionedinburgh.com

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