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ExCeL London doubles business in United States compared to 2017

It’s been a busy year for James Rees, Executive Director, ExCeL London. Elected as ICCA president in November 2018, Rees reveals his approach to the US market and how being in a New Romantic pop band helped him thrive in the events industry.

Our strategy is changing
We will be looking beyond the traditional territories and looking at the new emerging markets as well as starting to pick up business from China. That’s where the events industry is very good at dealing with economic and political challenges. We adapt and find new ways of working.

We made it our purpose to understand how North American planners like to do business
The reality is it’s a very people-oriented way of working over there. We started by working with Visit London (now London & Partners) and doing some of our own sales missions with US teams, as well as three to four other venues.

We were starting to pick off business. When we did go with other London partner venues and hotels, it watered down our proposition so we then employed a representation company based in New York, called Marketing Challenges International. We started working with them and doing sales missions in our own right. Through their research and data trawling, we found organisers with potential events in all sorts of places – Charlottesville, Portland Oregon – perceived as smaller cities.

Everyone is on the front foot
We would do five cities in a week in the US, which is how our colleagues in America do it. Unless you are in there sitting in front of their desks talking to them, you will be forgotten. We then took a further step and arranged for one of my team to go to the US and do two-month stints working out of our representation company’s office. That investment has slowly and surely driven our business. Last year, we doubled the amount of business we did compared to 2017 with the US. It takes two to three years to see it and we feel we are on a roll now.

We have people working at ExCeL from all over the globe
From a personal point of view, it’s been the most diverse company I’ve ever worked at. I’ve been here 15 years and there has been a shift change in diversity over that time. We have a very positive outlook on diversity. We should be supportive of all the inclusivity programmes such as Fast Forward 15 and the programme being developed there by Fay Sharpe.

My whole campaign to be ICCA president was around key elements
Firstly, decentralisation of ICCA services, so it is less of a one size fits all service provider. Second, encouragement of young, future leaders to get involved sooner rather than later. The earlier an industry invests in people, the more loyal they feel to that industry. We are working on the idea of a shadow board of young leaders – taken from around the world – bringing new ideas and sharing them.

The new ICCA board has a better balance of male versus female members
If I look at the board of ICCA, we’ve made a big push that was driven by Nina Freysen-Pretorius, the previous president, who was flying the flag to promote the female sector of the workforce to push and to strive. I think across the ICCA community there are more female leaders coming through and being encouraged to come through.

Being in a New Romantics band taught me many things
I was in a band similar to Duran Duran, called No No Fear –  and we released a single on 7-inch vinyl. I also sang the theme tune for a kid’s TV programme called Timmy Time. That’s on YouTube, I believe. You learn about personalities – loads of bands fall out, and you have to deal with the different strengths and weaknesses of people. Getting on stage in front of thousands of people sets you up for not being afraid when you get in front of the ICCA general assembly. There is an element of putting on a show. Find something you like and then discover if there’s a living to be made out of it. That’s what I found with the events industry.