It’s a year in which we have put on more conferences and events than ever before and will break through half a billion pounds in terms of the venue’s contribution to the local economy.
While there is understandable excitement building around this month’s Scottish Business Awards featuring Leonardo DiCaprio, the fixtures that excite me most as CEO are the conferences we are now able to bring in against tough international competition for the first time.
One such event, the Rehabilitation International World Congress, which took place in October, provided in the region of £2 million of economic benefit for Edinburgh. The aims of this Congress were arguably of greater significance as it painted a picture of how the positive changes made in this city around accessibility are making Scotland’s capital a leading destination for an increasing number of international organisations, for whom accessibility standards can make or break the decision to locate their major conferences here.
Importantly, this is not about “box ticking” or corporate social responsibility – it’s more about whether Edinburgh gets millions of pounds worth of inward investment or whether other UK and international cities get it instead.
Edinburgh is challenged accessibility-wise by hills and cobbles which can be uncomfortable for wheelchair users or anyone using a walking aid, plus the fact we have some of the world’s oldest buildings, but investment in the city has been a big game-changer in recent years. From Edinburgh Castle, the Royal Botanic Garden and the Royal Yacht Britannia to many of our hotels and restaurants, Edinburgh has garnered a five-star reputation that has been supported by significant improvements to infrastructure and public transport.
What we began to fully realise by engaging with the impressive team over at Euan’s Guide – the disabled access review website – in Leith is the importance of the attitude of staff to disabled people. Considerable investment into physical accessibility can be undone by a poor experience with employees. EICC has invested in training across our team and, with an eye on competitive advantage, we hope our approach to accessibility will be another factor that makes organisations choose Edinburgh over London or any other global destination.
We remain on track to contribute over £50m to the local economy this year, up around £6m on last year, and we will also be back into the black this year with impressive profits that are considerably more than previous predictions by “big four” accountant EY. We’ve reached this position of strength through lots of hard work across our team and a collective ambition to be the best – not just in Scotland or in the UK, but when held up against any conference venue worldwide.
2017 is shaping up nicely too but the last thing myself or the team will do is rest on our laurels. As some say in the industry, you’re only as good as your last conference. We’ll continue to keep that thought in our minds as we plot for bigger and better in the years to come.
• Marshall Dallas is chief executive of the EICC