Edinburgh International Conference Centre gathers pace ahead of 25th anniversary - Marshall Dallas

Scotland needs to address the skill gaps in an events industry worth 40bn each year, says Dallas. Picture: Steward Attwood
Scotland needs to address the skill gaps in an events industry worth 40bn each year, says Dallas. Picture: Steward Attwood
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As the Edinburgh International Conference Centre (EICC) looks ahead to its 25th anniversary later this year, we also reflect on what was in many ways our best ever year in 2019. On track for record revenue and operating profit, we have also injected more than £55 million of economic impact into the capital city and the surrounding region. We have staged more events this year than ever before, and of the 217 held last year perhaps TEDSummit is the one that stands out most.

With a bid process that lasted almost two years, the EICC was shortlisted alongside several international conference destinations, with Edinburgh coming out on top. More than one thousand delegates from over 100 countries attended TEDSummit at our venue over two days back in July, with the benefits of hosting TED going beyond tourism by positioning Edinburgh and Scotland on the world stage as a place to meet and be inspired.

Our vision, to create an environment which inspires ideas that change the world, is closely aligned to TED’s own vision of “Ideas Worth Spreading”, and it was these shared values, together with the collaborative spirit of our city partners which made such a strong case for Edinburgh.

As we move into a new decade and our 25th year of operating, we are setting out a number of fresh ambitions. Three areas under active consideration are sustainability, education and business development, areas we know will strengthen our position in the global events industry. Accordingly, we hope to make a number of related announcements in early 2020.

When we consider sustainability, the EICC has a track record of winning awards for our commitment to environmentally sound practices. We now have zero waste going to landfill and we have cut our utility bill in half over the same period in which we doubled the number of events we hold at the venue.

But we want to do more and go even further, so along these lines, we now have a full-time environmental consultant in place to help reshape our approach to sustainability.

£40 billion industry

On education, we know that Scotland needs to address the skill gaps in an events industry that is worth around £40 billion to the overall UK economy every year – with the conferences, meetings and exhibitions segment in the region of £20bn. Our global competition understands this, too, so we need to ensure we stay ahead of the curve.

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The recent investment in our people, particularly our sales function, has been a key ingredient to our success over the last few years. I couldn’t be prouder of our team and at the end of December we paid tribute to a member of staff who has been front and centre at the EICC since its very inception in 1995. Words cannot sum up how important Les Florence, our former head of finance, has been to the business and to me during my tenure as chief executive, and we wish Les all the very best in his retirement.

In a recent broadcast interview, I was asked about how Brexit has impacted the EICC and how recent political machinations affect our business going forward. In the wake of the EU referendum in 2016, we lost upwards of £1 million in revenue because of misgivings from European industry associations. Three years on, and there is still not a day when one of our team does not have to handle an enquiry from a Europe-based client on the state of play with Brexit.

Rather than sitting on our hands, we have gone about a series of initiatives to counter any ongoing Brexit impact. While European business remains integral to the EICC, we have doubled down on our sales approach outside the EU and have secured some notable wins including on the Eastern Seaboard of the US. We have also set up an alliance of conferences centres from across Europe, something we will be announcing more on in the New Year.

- Marshall Dallas, EICC chief executive.