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Look for opportunities during Brexit negotiations, panel urges

Industry leaders urge eventprofs to turn negatives into positives in debate organised by SITE GB

Pictured: panel members Stephen Moss (founder of Springboard), Juliet Price (executive director of HBAA), Simon Hughes (vice chair of British Visits and Events Partnership) and Barbara Jamison (London & Partners)

Spinning challenges into opportunities is the best way for the events industry to command attention from government during its two-year Brexit negotiations, a leading panel has suggested.

Events professionals should try and look for positives during the UK's divorce talks with the EU, said former head of events for the government Simon Hughes, in order for the industry to be taken seriously.

"The key is to constantly address the agenda that's most worrying politicians … and aligning ourselves with key things they're worried about," he said.

"I've never heard civil servants talking the way they have been talking since the referendum. They don't want to hear about any problems, they're asking what are the opportunities. No-body knows what's going to happen but they've been told 'don't bring us problems, bring us solutions'."

Hughes, also vice chair of the British Visits and Events Partnership (BVEP), was speaking in a panel organised by the Society for Incentive Travel Excellence (SITE) GB. He was joined by fellow panellists Juliet Price, executive director of HBAA, Barbara Jamison, head of business development - Europe at London & Partners, and Springboard founder Stephen Moss, a charity which helps young people get into the hospitality sector. The talk was moderated by CAT Publications managing editor Martin Lewis at London & Partners' office at London Bridge.

Recruitment was potentially a major issue, as Lewis pointed out the events industry employed 800k people, with almost half of them (358k) being EU citizens.

Moss said hoteliers, agencies and other employers within the sector could become more involved in recruiting and training young people.

"We're  heavily reliant on EU workers and we can't sustain a fall from the cliff," he warned.

"But we're not alone; there are other industries facing the same problem with a small pool of talent."

Moss said there was still a negative stigma around choosing the hospitality industry as a career, although perceptions had changed in recent times for chef roles due to popular television shows and the interest in food.

Hughes added: "What we need is a sexy programme about hotels … when CSI launched there was a huge rise in applications for forensic science degrees - even though there are only about 1,000 jobs a year."

Price said most HBAA agency members had not experienced any negative knock-ons since the vote to leave, but were apprehensive about what new barriers it will put in place.

"There was an instant hesitation over business, then gradually everyone got back into the flow a bit. Most agencies say business is up marginally; there's more of an appetite to hold events in the UK because of the price, but that in turn has driven up demand in the UK," she said.

"The concern agencies have is how easy it will be to do outbound business. If you take basic event production, moving a truck from here to Spain, how easy will that be? They're concerned about lots more admin and paperwork."

Jamison said now was the "golden opportunity" to sell London.

"There's still a perception, even with the exchange rate the way it is, that London is still too expensive," she said.

"I'd like to see more action and people going out globally and talking London up. And maybe using innovative ways of marketing it - whether it's through superb F&B or Michelin-starred food or a famous cocktail."

She added: "We need to be aligned with forward looking policies and industries. That's something our industry can focus on. We're already doing that with Smart Cities and VR and technology."

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