All pulling together for a common goal

The Fife and Kinross Blues take part in the tug of war final at the Highland Show, an event which requires careful logistical planning and specialist skills. Picture: Toby Williams
The Fife and Kinross Blues take part in the tug of war final at the Highland Show, an event which requires careful logistical planning and specialist skills. Picture: Toby Williams
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The establishment of Event Scotland in 2003 as Scotland’s national events agency was arguably a turning point for tourism. For the first time, Scotland had an organisation specifically responsible for “sustaining, growing and securing a portfolio of events which deliver impact for Scotland”. Here was a national body which could have a direct impact on Scotland’s performance in attracting and hosting events of all forms.

So how successful was the new national focus on events? Statistics published recently indicate that during the first fivemonths of 2016 UK and international visitor numbers actually fell by 4.3 per cent and by 7.5 per cent respectively (albeit that the decline in volume was offset by a growth in spend and value), and there is an argument which claims that the strategy of focusing on events is not delivering the expected results. However it is just as valid to emphasise that without the focus on events, then the decline in visitor volumes might have been all the more significant.

As soon as there is a strategic focus on events in a destination, there has to be an understanding that event-generated demand has its own particular characteristics, with implications right across the supply chain.

Firstly – it can be seen that the motivation for the visitor to travel to Scotland is a function of the event itself. So the delegates attending the medical convention in Edinburgh reach the capital city more because of the event than because of the appeal of the destination. Otherwise they might never have decided to visit Edinburgh – but once they are here, there is a once-off opportunity to influence their perception of Scotland, and their willingness to return.

Secondly – there is the principle that date and location are critical aspects of event-driven demand. The “fixed assets” of Scottish tourism can be enjoyed at almost any time, but the visitor attending a specific event must make their travel plans around the need to be in the right place, at the right time.

That principle of event-generated demand being concentrated in terms of date and location has far-reaching implications for the amenities and infrastructure of the host location, and for service providers, especially those operating in the field of event logistics. Effective logistics equals successful events

Scotland’s capacity and competence (and ultimately its success) in staging events is determined largely by its ability to manage the logistics function and everything which that entails, from ensuring that all of the equipment and infrastructure is brought on site to the Old Course in St. Andrews in time to transform it into a venue for The Open, through to planning and operating all of the transport services which enabled spectators to reach sports venues during The Commonwealth Games.

Logistics as a discipline has its origins in a military context – the movement of human and physical resources; supplies; equipment; etc to locations where operations are taking place. Event logistics has much in common with its military equivalent – and there is very often a clear pattern of activity which replicates the phases of deployment, combat, and redeployment. The need to plan and manage each of those phases successfully is exemplified through an event such as The Royal Highland Show, which in June 2016 attracted more than 188,000 visitors.

The construction and break-down phases require careful planning and specialist skills; and the “combat” phase during the event itself creates different pressures, with the need to provide 20,000 car-parking spaces each day, and to manage traffic to and from the event which shares a single main access road to an airport now handling over 11 million passengers per year.

The concentration of demand associated with such an occasion is intensified when there is an overlap with other events (whether they are university graduation ceremonies or concerts at Murrayfield), and the success of the logistics function in these circumstances depends on collaboration and co-operation, facilitated in Edinburgh through the city’s EPOG (Event Planning and Operations Group). The concentration of demand in August, with the city’s festivals recording attendances of over 4.5 million, is equally significant in terms of the pressure on infrastructure and services.

Scotland’s status as an events destination depends on the capacity and capability of its services and its infrastructure, and as the need for professionalism in event logistics intensifies, the role of bodies such as the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport, in supporting education and providing training is more important than ever. Logistics has for long been an indispensable part of daily life. Across industries, it ensures that goods and merchandise are always where they are needed. It is now an indispensable part of Scotland’s expanding events industry.

Ken Thomson, chair, CILT Scotland.