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UK conference sector worth £18.1bn in 2017, survey finds

UKCAMS finds that while the number of meetings in 2017 was lower than 2016, average size of events was up on 2016

Pictured: in 2017 there were an estimated 92.8 million delegates accounting for approximately 147.4 million delegate days

The UK saw an estimated £18.1 billion of direct expenditure generated by conference and meeting delegates in venues and in wider destination spend in 2017, according to this year’s UK Conference and Meeting Survey (UKCAMS)

The survey, now in its 25th year, also revealed that while the overall number of conferences and meetings held in 2017 was lower than in 2016, the average size of events was up slightly on 2016.

The delegate spend calculations in the report are based on the latest research conducted in 2017 by VisitBritain, replacing the historic data that had previously been used in UKCAMS estimates.

The findings show that the overall number of conferences and meetings in 2017 was an estimated 1.29m compared with the 2016 figure of 1.45m, but was on a par with the average for the last decade (an average of 1.31m per year).

Venues hosted an average of 373 conferences and meetings in 2017, down on 2016 (419 events) and 2015 (383 events). However, an increase in the average size of events (72 delegates per event in 2017 compared with 67 per event in 2016) in part mitigated against this downward trend.

Levels of capital investment by venues remained strong with 82 per cent of venues reporting that they had invested in their property in 2017, with 15 per cent investing more than £500,000.

Other key findings from the research include:

•         In 2017, there were an estimated 92.8 million delegates accounting for approximately 147.4 million delegate days. These delegates generated an estimated £18.1 billion of direct expenditure in venues and the wider destination, down slightly on 2016 (£18.6 billion)

•         The average duration of conferences and meetings was 1.6 days (unchanged from previous years), although almost two-thirds of events lasted only one day or less

•         Conference and training centres (592 events), hotels (445 events) and academic venues (387 events) hosted higher than average numbers of events

•         Two-fifths of events in 2017 (40 per cent) were organised by a professional conference organiser (PCO) or event management agency. This was up on 2016 and continues a trend of increasing use of third party organisers by event owners

•         Just over a tenth (12 per cent) of venues hosted a significant proportion of international conferences – 11 per cent or more of their conferences. However, of those venues that do not target international conferences, a fifth are very interested in targeting this market in the future. Venues tended to target international conferences through trade shows and/or in partnership with a conference bureau.
Kerrin MacPhie, VisitBritain’s head of business events, said: "UK Conference and Meeting Survey 2018 provides UK destinations and venues with important insights into the sector’s scale and latest trends, helping to inform their business planning and marketing activity. VisitBritain is committed to working with the sector to grow the UK’s share of international business events and this research is a valuable tool in helping achieve this.”

The 2018 UKCAMS research was sponsored by VisitBritain, IMEX Group,, Visit Guildford for Business, Glasgow Convention Bureau and Hiscox Event Insurance.
The research was carried out by Tony Rogers of Tony Rogers Conference & Event Services and Richard Smith of RJS Associates.

Copies of the full UKCAMS 2018 report are available online.

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