'Grounds for optimism' as UKCAMS finds events doubled in 2021

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The number of conferences and meetings in the UK more than doubled year-on-year in 2021, generating almost £5 billion in direct spend, according to the UK Conference and Meeting Survey (UKCAMS).

However, less than half (45 per cent) of venues expect their conference and meetings business to recover to 2019 levels by next year.

The 29th annual UKCAMS report reveals that an estimated 440,000 conferences and meetings took place in the UK in 2021, compared with just 195,000 in 2020, and still representing only 31 per cent of 2019’s conference and meetings activity. These events generated an estimated £4.9 billion of direct expenditure in venues and destinations, compared to £1.7 billion in 2020 and £17.6 billion in 2019.

Looking forward, just under half of venues (45 per cent) indicated that they expect their conference and meetings business to recover to 2019 levels by 2023, with over a third somewhat less optimistic and anticipating that a full recovery would take longer.

The UKCAMS 2022 report provides an overview of conference venue performance and the estimated impact of conference and meeting spend in destinations in 2021. This was the second consecutive year where performance was hugely disrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic. By May 2021, the majority of the UK was coming out of lockdown but with restrictions on larger events through to mid-July. Business events were permitted without restrictions in the second half of the year, but the Omicron variant surge impacted at the end of 2021 and effectively closed the conference sector again in December.

In 2021 there was an average of 124 conferences and meetings held in primary conference venues, compared with 56 in 2020 and 405 in 2019. The average duration of events was 1.5 days, similar to previous years, although most conferences and meetings (69 per cent) lasted a day or less. Around a fifth (19 per cent) of business was residential at the event venue with an estimated further 12 per cent staying in the wider destination.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the levels of product investment by venues remained below pre-Covid levels, with over a third of venues (35 per cent) not investing anything in 2021, a result of cash flow pressures and trading uncertainties.

Venuedirectory.com MD Michael Begley said: "It’s been a challenging few years and having the UKCAMS conference and meeting survey allows us and, I am sure, others to compare how the industry is doing against their own business and gives us valuable insight to the overall market.”

Tony Rogers, on behalf of the UKCAMS research team, said: “The UKCAMS research has consistently demonstrated the scale and importance of the conference and meetings industry to the national economy. The 2022 UKCAMS research programme provides some grounds for optimism that the sector may have begun the process of recovery from the ravages of Covid-19. Future UKCAMS research will monitor the progress the sector is making towards a full recovery,”

The 2022 UKCAMS research was sponsored by VisitBritain with support from venuedirectory.com and was carried out by Tony Rogers and by Richard Smith of RJS Associates.

Copies of the full UKCAMS 2022 report are available at http://www.ukcams.org.uk 

Paul Harvey
Written By
Paul Harvey
M&IT editor Paul Harvey is a journalist with more than 15 years of experience. He began his career in the local press, working for various titles across the north. Since joining M&IT in 2013, he has become a trusted and respected voice in the sector, championing event professionals and reporting on all aspects of the events industry for the brand.

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