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Why it pays to get involved in the events industry

A waiting crowd in front of a microphone and podium

You might only encounter the events sector a few times a year; maybe you regularly attend conferences, conventions, festivals, or corporate parties on special occasions. But for the events industry itself, every day is a special occasion. The events industry, built up around celebrations, has its own reason to celebrate: it is one of the most profitable sectors in the worldwide economy, bringing billions in revenue to destinations all over the world.

Take Chicago’s McCormick Place. This 2.6 million square foot event complex is at the centre of the city’s events ecosystem, playing host to thousands of events and contributing an estimated $1.7 billion a year to the Illinois economy. Without this single venue, Chicago (and Illinois in general) would be far worse off financially.

Similar venues can be found around the world. The events industry has established itself as an important, irreplaceable sector of the economy, and it’s likely to stay that way—at least for the near future.

 

How much does the events industry generate?

Sticking with McCormick Place as an example, the aforementioned $1.7 billion estimate comes from a study conducted by the venue’s owners, McPier. McPier released the figures as debate was raging over the state budget, as a reminder to the Illinois legislature of just how important the venue is to the city. It’s not just the money that the government needs to bear in mind; the same report also suggests that McCormick Place is responsible for 15,000 jobs in the Windy City.

McCormick Place may be the largest events venue in North America, but there are other venues with enough clout to influence governments. A little closer to home, the ExCel Centre in London generated £5 billion of economic activity in its first five years. The UK events sector as a whole is said to be worth $42.3 billion to the economy, supporting 570,000 jobs, and making up over 35% of the UK visitor economy, according to figures from Eventbrite.

Back in the US, the events industry is estimated to generate more wealth than air transport, sound recording, performing arts, spectator sports and the motion picture industry. With figures this large, it’s no surprise that the events sector is due to expand even further over  the next few years.

 

Where will the events industry go from here?

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics has forecast the country’s events industry to grow 44% by 2020, a higher level of growth than many other industries. In the UK, the Conference and Incentive Travel (C&IT)’s State of the Industry report found that 83% of events agencies expected to grow in headcount in 2016. 63% of corporate event planners expected the number of events they hold to grow year-on-year.

It’s not just in the world’s largest cities, like London and Chicago, that events are picking up. Further up north, a new arts, leisure and conference hub is being opened in Gateshead. The local council estimates the complex will generate £30 million for the area and create 500 new jobs. With centres like this opening up across the country, it appears nothing could slow down the growth of this thriving industry. Unfortunately, there is one particular event on the horizon which might puncture the events bubble.

 

What might slow the events industry down?

In the UK, one seemingly unavoidable factor that has created uncertainty in almost every industry: Brexit negotiations are making very little progress. A “bad deal” or “no deal” situation could drive the major players in many industries towards relocating to EU member countries, taking millions of pounds and thousands of jobs with them in the process.

Just 30 days after the Brexit referendum, the Meetings Industry Association (MIA) conducted a survey which found that 92% of respondents had already experienced a drop or freeze in enquiries. The C&IT found that 20% of event planners saw uncertainty around the EU as the biggest threat to the industry. The reasons for this are manifold.

First there is employment; many UK hospitality workers come from EU member states. With the state of their rights unclear, there’s a chance many of them could be forced to return to their countries of origin. However, post-Brexit limitations on travel will also herald a significant change. If international guests cannot travel freely to the UK after Brexit, far fewer global events will be taking place in the country.

For now, though, the events industry seems buoyant. And just as McCormick Place aimed to influence Illinois legislature, other government bodies are taking note. Gateshead’s  new arts, leisure and conference hub will cost millions of pounds to build, but £25 million of that will come from the local council. Brexit or no Brexit, this country is banking on events.

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