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Events and conferences are big business for London but face an existential threat

London is the world’s greatest city, which is why so many of the world’s leading companies currently choose to run their events here. Organised business events and conferences are big business for London but face an existential threat following the government’s recent decision to close the sector for another 6 months.

 

By Jeremy Rees, Chief Executive, Excel London

 

Before Covid-19, the UK events industry was one of Britain’s biggest success stories, a world-class sector worth £70bn, employing over 600,000 people, across 25,000 businesses. A key driver of the visitor economy, without which other key sectors such as travel, transport, accommodation, hospitality, catering, and entertainment are greatly diminished.

Last year Excel alone hosted 400 events, welcoming 4 million people and 40,000 exhibitors. In turn, these events contributed £4.5bn to the economy, supported 37,600 jobs and were directly responsible for 25% of London’s inbound business tourists.

We are currently one of the very few remaining sectors mandated by government to be closed and, of course, we are following the government’s advice not to reopen.

The current estimate is that 90,000 people will be made redundant by the end of the year unless the sector is allowed to reopen in a Covid-19 secure way, similar to almost every other sector in the UK. The alternative is to agree specific financial help for a mandated closed sector that, I would highlight, immediately made itself available to support the government, the NHS, and communities across the UK by providing our facilities for the Nightingale Hospitals.

The position in the UK is in stark contrast with countries across Europe, including France and Germany, and the rest of the world, who have been allowed to reopen events safely and successfully. The world’s largest and most successful event companies are based in London and ironically can now run their events almost everywhere other than the UK.

We are urgently calling upon the government to provide us with a date when we can reopen or to extend financial support whilst we go through a period of enforced hibernation. If the government fails to act, the UK is at risk of losing a world-class industry, viable jobs, and a highly talented, skilled workforce.

Once we are allowed to trade again, there’s no doubt that organised business events will play a safe and full role in supporting this country’s economic recovery by providing a trading platform for import and export activity across every sector. Unfortunately, each day that passes another sector loses trading opportunities and London’s competitive advantage is further diminished.

Encouragingly, in the medium and long term demand for future business is strong. London remains a hugely attractive city to trade from and enquiries to run large-scale world class events are buoyant.

To support this demand, work is under way to add significant capacity to the Excel site, which will ensure London remains a major player on the world stage for business events and congresses.