Decimated: Sector value fell to £1.7bn in 2020, report finds

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The latest edition of the UK Conference and Meeting Survey (UKCAMS) throws into stark relief the huge impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the UK sector, while also providing some tentative timelines and a baseline for recovery.

The 28th annual UKCAMS report shows a drop of 86 per cent in the volume of conferences and meetings held in 2020 compared with 2019. At the same time, the estimated value of the sector fell from £17.6 billion in 2019 to £1.7 billion in 2020.

Looking forward, half of venues indicated that they expect their conference and meetings business to recover to 2019 levels by 2023, with a quarter more optimistic and indicating by 2022. In the short term, venues expect growth in hybrid meetings and a recovery in regular team meetings and training courses, with some hesitancy around the recovery of other markets such as national and international association conferences.

VisitBritain head of business events Kerrin MacPhie said: “The findings in the report are a stark demonstration of the scale of the impact on the UK’s venues from the pandemic, providing the industry with valuable and timely insights. The report also underscores the importance of the work undertaken by the sector, its resilience and determination, in safely welcoming back global events and ensuring a stand-out delegate experience. The outlook for a strong return by 2023, a timeline also reflected in the UK Government’s Tourism Recovery Plan, is very encouraging as the industry reopens and starts on the road to rebuilding.”

The report provides an overview of conference venue performance and the estimated impact of conference and meeting spend in destinations in 2020.

In 2020 there was an average of 56 conferences and meetings held in primary conference venues, compared with 405 in 2019. An estimated total of 195,000 conferences and meetings were held in the UK (compared with 1.4 million in 2019), the vast majority of these in the period January-March (not traditionally a core season for business events). These meetings were attended by some 11 million delegates, accounting for approximately 15.7 million delegate days. The average duration of events declined slightly, from 1.6 days to 1.4 days, although the majority of conferences and meetings (73 per cent) lasted a day or less.

Unsurprisingly, the levels of investment by venues in their product also fell, with almost half of all venues not investing anything in 2020, a result of cash flow pressures and trading uncertainties.

Tony Rogers, on behalf of the UKCAMS research team, said: “The UKCAMS research has consistently demonstrated the scale and importance of this industry to the national economy. The 2021 UKCAMS research programme clearly quantifies the challenge the sector faces in its recovery and future UKCAMS research will monitor the progress it is making towards a successful recovery.”

The 2021 UKCAMS research was sponsored by VisitBritain with support from The research was carried out by Tony Rogers of Tony Rogers Conference & Event Services and Richard Smith of RJS Associates.

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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