Visit Britain just launched a new 4-year Event Support Program to provide higher levels of advocacy and funding to UK cities to help them convince more international associations to host large-scale conventions in England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland.
This stems from ex-British Prime Minister David Cameron’s 5-point Backing The Tourism Sector initiative outlined in July 2015. It acknowledged a lack of collaboration at the time between the national government, the city convention bureaus, and all of the nation’s many convention industry partners.
The document states: “We will address a lack of join-up across Britain’s business visits and events sector. We will instigate a Board to identify those events that it is in Britain’s strategic interests to host, and we will then work in partnership across Government to back the biggest and best bids that the UK can work to host.”
With the launch of the Event Support Program, convention bureaus and convention centers throughout the UK can apply for monetary support from an annual fund of one million pounds (US $1.3 million). The funds will be disbursed to those cities bidding on large high-profile events that particularly benefit the stature of the country as a leader in advanced sciences and industry.
Cities can also apply for a variety of non-financial assistance, including the involvement of government and industry sector leaders to advocate on behalf of British cities.
Visit Britain will enlist government ministers, diplomatic officials, UK Trade & Investment executives, and other high-ranking business and academic influencers to engage with the leaders of international associations. The goal is to show the associations that they have access to the full weight of Britain’s knowledge base and political pull.
Because of the Brexit vote, the additional support for business event development from the national government comes at a welcome time to counter the negative news related to Britain’s pending departure from the European Union.
Regarding London specifically, there’s been a concerted effort among the city’s public and private stakeholders to emphasize how England’s capital is still open for international business events and foreign business investment. That’s possible because organizations like London & Partners, for example, can afford to pay for enormous worldwide marketing campaigns, even ones that aren’t terribly good.
The rest of the country’s big cities, however, don’t have nearly the same size of budgets for promotional purposes. Therefore, Visit Britain’s new Event Support Program is really designed to help promote the UK’s other important business cities as convention capitals, ranging from Glasgow to Birmingham.
“The main idea behind the new support program is really to galvanize government support for business events, because quite often these international associations respect the views of the relevant ministers in their sectors,” said Chris Foy, head of business visits and events for Visit Britain. “The program is a little like a convention fund, but the main emphasis is on the advocacy that the country can bring to secure these events.”
A Big Shift in Business Event Content Strategy
The Event Support Program includes provisions for an all-new, digital meetings marketing campaign, which will align with the successful “GREAT Britain” leisure tourism campaign that launched ahead of the London 2012 Summer Olympics.
Called “Events Are GREAT Britain,” the new marketing platform was announced in April, and according to Foy, the campaign is scheduled to go live with new creative launching around the IMEX America convention industry trade show in Las Vegas this October.
That is a potentially innovative concept because few destinations are investing heavily in comprehensive content on the meetings and conventions side. And almost none, if any, are bringing the high-concept creative energy of a leisure campaign like GREAT to marketing campaigns targeting convention planners.
This could go either of two ways.
In the past, on the leisure side, Visit Britain has promoted travel experiences revolving around tea, gardens, castles, B&Bs, pubs, and other nostalgic, sentimental, and iconic experiences celebrating the grace and charm of the Queen’s England. On the business events side, the focus in the past has often highlighted infrastructure and development.
However, in today’s competitive environment, promoting a combination of idyllic tea shops and modern convention centers to planners is not going to differentiate Britain in the European theater to North American planners.
For the Events Are GREAT Britain messaging to be, well, great, the focus should be on the nation’s technology, business, academic, and science sectors — and the general spirit of innovation in Britain’s cities not called London — to attract international association events.
London & Partners and Marketing Manchester provide good templates for that in terms of how they leverage their partners and stakeholders, and promote that on their websites.
“We’ll have new creative assets and quite innovative promotional programs to raise the profile of Britain in the eyes of association buyers,” said Foy. “We’re bringing the GREAT Britain protocols to the events fold to illustrate that one of the great strengths we have is our sector expertise around the country in different universities and industries.”
That would help Visit Britain catch up to the work of other national convention marketing organizations, such as the German Convention Bureau and Netherlands Board of Tourism & Conventions, with regards to how they’re driving business events by promoting access to science and industry leaders.
That would be advantageous as so many other national European bureaus are still trying to entice convention organizers with their famous chocolate, cheeses, and churches.
The content possibilities for Britain are awesome. In and around Birmingham, for example, the region offers a cluster of world-renowned automotive companies, including Aston Martin and Jaguar. So how can automotive, manufacturing, and related association sectors lean into existing intellectual capital in Birmingham to elevate the convention experience and drive higher business outcomes?
The Events Are GREAT Britain campaign needs to answer that question.
“This is a really good hook to make secondary cities attractive destinations because a lot of these conference buyers want to take their business to where they know their specific area of expertise is, whether that’s Cambridge, Newcastle, Liverpool, or Birmingham,” explained Foy. “The government is mapping all that out, so there’s going to be a very clear proposition soon about where Britain’s sector strength lies.”